Interview with Ben Langdon, author of The Miranda Contract

March 28, 2014 Giveaways, Interviews 1

Interview with Ben Langdon, author of The Miranda ContractThe Miranda Contract by Ben Langdon
Published by Kalamity Press on 4-1-2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 356
Format: eBook
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THE MIRANDA CONTRACT

Supervillain. Pop Star.
Sometimes the life we're given isn't the life we'd choose for ourselves.

For the past five years, Dan Galkin has been lying to everyone about just how ordinary he is. But Dan's the grandson of The Mad Russian: one of the world's most powerful, and insane, supervillains. And Dan has powers too. He's a living battery, able to absorb and discharge electricity with his mind. Normally he keeps his powers hidden, but when the old man returns with an offer to make his grandson heir apparent, any chance at an ordinary life is blown apart.

Miranda Brody thought she wanted to be a pop star, but now she's got the international profile and the entourage, she doesn't recognize the Miranda she has become. After getting caught up in the cross-fire between Dan and his grandfather, Miranda realizes there's more to life than being famous. Staying alive, for example, becomes a high priority. And not falling in love with the pizza boy comes a close second.

Labeled by society, trapped by expectation.
Dan and Miranda might actually be able to change everything.

As long as they don't kill each other first.

Interview with Ben Langdon

Can you talk a little about what the book is about?

The Miranda Contract is a story about overcoming family pressures and expectations as well as reinventing yourself. When Dan was twelve years old he made a terrible mistake after being led astray by his grandfather, the supervillain known as The Mad Russian. Ever since that day, Dan has been paying the price, having been arrested and slapped with community service. The novel forces Dan to far up to that past mistake, as well as stand up to his family. It’s a bit of a classic YA story – a young person has to find the courage to live their own life.

It’s also a superhero novel, and brings together all the elements of comic books and even further back to the pulp stories which predate them. I like to think it is a book which shows a more rounded view of the life of a super hero (or supervillain).

Where did you get the idea for the book?

I have to admit that as a teenager I was something of a comic-book junky, always searching out back issues of The Uncanny X-Men or The Legion of Superheroes. I loved the huge cast of characters, their backstories and interconnectedness. My head was filled with “useless” facts which fuelled an overactive fascination with how comic characters would act and react in given circumstances.

The storyline of Dan came from an idea I had for a story subtitled: The Story of a Former Teenage Supervillain. I really liked the idea of telling the story of a character who had made mistakes in the past, a person who had been labelled as a supervillain. After writing a first draft I read Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will be Invincible which gave me permission, in a way, to write a story with sympathetic villains. From this I created Dan’s grandfather and his circle of Cold War-era villains – a bunch of washed-up has-beens. They form a link throughout the novels and as they fall to the side and Dan’s generation take their place, I like to think this is a nice metaphor for the constant need for change. I deliberately based the old supervillains on cliches such as The Mad Russian and The Yellow Peril. They are cliches, yes, but like the best superhero characters, there’s more to them than names and powers.

What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?

I’m a high school teacher and work with teenagers every day. I deliberately set out to write a book for teenage boys – whether that’s been a success or not, it’s too early to tell. There are many boys who read an amazing number of books, but there are also a large number who are reluctant or even hostile readers. I wanted to create a book which was based in a reality they understood (set in Australia) but with excitement and thrills. So, my first message (or hope) was to inspire some boys to pick up the book.

The more universal message I want readers to take away from The Miranda Contract is that we all face pressures and expectations, but that it’s possible to shake them off and create your own life. No matter what the label is: supervillain, superhero, pop star, teenager… there is always more to a person than that. I like to think there are complexities to the characters in my book, that none of them are purely good or purely evil.

How long did it take to write the book?

It’s hard to say but I would put it at two years. For the past year I sent the book to publishers and editors in Australia, including Harper Collins, Text Publishing, Hachette Australia and Allen & Unwin. The feedback I received was incredibly valuable and led to changes as well as reinforcing my original vision. As every author knows getting published is incredibly difficult and the Australian market is no different. I was lucky to get my manuscript on to the desks of editors as well as being shortlisted for a manuscript award for Hachette.

I work full time and have three kids, so my writing is always completed around those other priorities. Throughout those writing years, though, the extended story was plotted out for other books in the series, so with The Miranda Contract complete, I am now free to move on to the next book, The Halo Effect. I estimate the following books will take a year each to write, edit, edit, edit and publish. At that rate I should have the sequel completed before the end of this year.

Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?

Dan Galkin is the centre of the story, and as a writer I was right with him as he crashed through emotional barriers, was put into difficult situations and ultimately provided with opportunities to create his own place in the world. There’s no way I can separate myself from Dan – he is a part of me. He was fun to write too, and he’s pretty much a real person in my mind – which is essential if I’m going to put him through more trials in coming books.

I also really enjoyed writing Halo, who serves as a kind of binary opposite to Dan. They are both the products of The Mad Russian – shaped into little villains by a lunatic. However, where Dan chose to hide his powers and become a model citizen, Halo embraced his powers and his ability to influence others. He chose a darker path. Halo isn’t a villain and he isn’t a hero – and yet, yes, he is a villain and he is a hero. He is ambiguous, annoying, confusing and sympathetic. I’m hoping readers will see both sides of him as his motivations are revealed. And the sequel, The Halo Effect, explores more of Halo’s backstory and current obsession, so fans will be able watch as we unravel his complex personality.

Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?

Interesting question. I don’t know if I’d attempt to do it the same way again, but I ended up writing the book like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The first chapter I wrote ended up being Chapter 12. I started with a scene in a hotel where Dan woke up not remembering the night before. He sees a beautiful girl in the room and realizes he’s attached to a briefcase. It was a typical noir set-up. From that scene I eventually put together the story, going so far as to lay out chapters either side of that first one. I wrote scenes because I wanted to write them. For example, I wrote a battle scene because I wanted to experiment with action, and then I wrote the tender scene where Dan and Miranda start to open up to each other. Eventually the chapters were completed and that was my first draft.

From there I did edits and smoothed the chapters into a coherent whole. And so I like to think of it as writing a jigsaw. I chose the parts I wanted to write. That way I was able to maintain a love for the book, and I seriously think an author needs to be excited about what they write.

If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?

Honestly I don’t think I would change anything. Along the way I did make some hard decisions, including a stronger focus on the romantic elements of the story (in response to an editor’s suggestion) and perhaps pulling back on the number of secondary characters. Now that it is published, I’m looking forward. Having the book in my hands is like the final step in the process and I’m now free to concentrate on the next book.

How did you come up with the cover?

I encountered Milan Jovanovic through 99designs.com. He captured Dan really well and managed to draw in subtle references to the story on the back cover. They serve as kind of ‘easter eggs’ for readers to discover. I am really happy with the cover.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved writing but never really thought I’d actually write a full-length, real-life novel mostly because I never seemed to have the time. There was school, the university, the work, then family… it was always a matter of “Just wait a few more years.” The thing that changed my whole perspective on writing, that made me really commit to writing a novel, was NaNoWriMo. A couple of people at work agreed to do the ‘Novel in a Month’ and it was this community of writers struggling against deadlines, chatting about writing and actually understanding the process that gave me ‘permission’ to actually writ a 50,000 draft. The next year I signed up with the Victorian Writers’ Centre in Melbourne and I enrolled in a writers’ workshop with author and publisher, Paul Collins. The writers I met there are still my close-writing friends and their support and feedback helped me get The Miranda Contract into reality.

What was the first story that you ever wrote?

If we’re going to go back to the earliest story it’d have to be a tale about a mouse in Grade 3, but my first professional story was a short story called Forget, to live which I wrote for Everyday Fiction. It was really well received and ended up in The Best of Everyday Fiction and even recorded as an audio podcast. The story was about a young man sitting in his car at a graveyard feeling guilt and regret over his father’s crimes. It was definitely a character piece – moody, angsty.

What are you favorite books and authors?

My favourite book of all time is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, which makes me want to be a better father and a better man. It inspires me every time I read it. More contemporary writers I admire include Favel Parret, who wrote ‘Past the Shallows’: a beautiful, sad story about there brothers growing up by the beach in Tasmania. I’m also a big fan of Australian writers Tim Winton and Christos Tsiolkas, both of whom also manage to create incredibly intense and flawed characters.

In the area of fantasy I admire Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus for her epic story, drawing together dozens of story-threads. Catherynne Valente’s ‘Deathless’ is similarly epic and quintessentially Russian. Neil Gaiman rounds out these three and really form the urban fantasy backbone to my reading.

In the field of comics from which The Miranda Contract really springs, The Uncanny X-Men and the Legion of Superheroes are the key influences, although I admit I have dropped off in recent times. Comics which still draw my interest include Saga and Hawkeye, both of which provide a kind of gritty realism amidst the wonders of superheroes/space opera. I hope those elements of gritty realism and superpowers are evident in my writing too.

What are you working on next?

I’m nearly finished the first draft of The Halo Effect, which is the second book in The Small Gods series. While The Miranda Contract can be read on its own and provides a resolution for Dan and the others, The Halo Effect opens up the world a little more and explores some of the subtle hints of a bigger storyline which were seeded in the first book. The blurb is:

When an aging crime lord goes missing, Dan finds himself pulled into a web of mad scientists and the living dead, but it’s the ‘normal’ parts of his world that need the most attention as Miranda Brody returns. Meanwhile, Halo is willing to sacrifice everything to get his second chance at life.

So, yeah, there is some mad science and a clutch of zombies.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I’d like to emphasize three things for aspiring writers:

Persistence. It’s too easy to say you want to be a writer. It’s also too easy to write a beginning and then rewrite it to infinity. My advice is to write your story, to get the words down, and don’t delete them into oblivion. You won’t end up keeping them all but you can’t edit a story which hasn’t been written yet. Finish it.

Read. You can’t be a good writer if you don’t read. And read widely. Don’t obsess over a single author because then you’ll probably start to clone their writing, whether that’s deliberate or accidental. There are thousands of ways to write a scene, to set up dialogue and to present a perspective. Try new things. I remember having great fun when I wrote my first action scene. I also remember writing an intimate scene for the first time. If you don’t experiment you won’t grow.

Don’t expect to become famous. It’s not going to happen. Even if you write a great book and get the right breaks, you probably won’t ever make a living from a single book. That’s not a bad thing. I am perfectly happy to be a writer as well as a high school teacher. I love my work. It’s really important for you to be happy with your life. Don’t chase an impossible dream where you’re famous and have money to buy gold-plated swimming pools. If that happens, then fantastic, but you need to work out why you’re writing and what you realistically expect.

How do you juggle writing with family time?

I’ve got three kids who take up a lot of my time, but also provide me with inspiration and serve as an incredibly important circuit-breaker. I don’t think I could ever be a full time, seven days a week writer. I need to balance things – too much of one thing throws my life out of balance. So I have work, I have family life and I have writing (I’m also studying my Masters).

The kids actually help me plot out stories and I use them to think through characters. Last night we talked our way through The Halo Effect while they were in bed. They are an excellent and interactive audience. Watch out for the teenage graffiti artist called Lizard Boy in the sequel.

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About Ben Langdon

I mostly write speculative fiction, particularly in the superhero or neo-pulp genres, but I also turn my author’s hand to literary and mainstream short stories. Writing is a big part of my life, and one that I really enjoy. As well as writing fiction I’ve also been a freelance columnist for The Age newspaper and the editor and publisher for This Mutant Life, a ‘zine for superhero fiction.

I’m from Portland, Victoria, and when I’m not writing, I teach English and literature at the local high school, grow three children who are my favourite heroes-in-training, and enjoy reading. You’ll be able to take a look at my book reviews on this site too, and probably realise I love reading YA as well as literary stuff.

One Response to “Interview with Ben Langdon, author of The Miranda Contract”

  1. Ben Langdon

    Hi Michael,
    Thanks for the chance to be a part of your interview series. It was a great opportunity and you made me think back to things that, perhaps, writers don’t actively think about. I’d be happy to answer any questions readers might have – it’s a great feeling interacting with readers!
    Cheers,
    Ben