Interview with Jack A. Langedijk, author of “because”

Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis?

I love this question because it makes me wonder about the root of the question. What is good grammar? And does good grammar always serve the story or the message? I think James Joyce and e.e. cummings’ works would never have been published if grammar Nazis had the last say. My Grade 11 English teacher once told me that I would never do anything involving literature, yet somehow I directed over 100 plays and 20 Shakespeare productions, co-wrote 15 new plays and wrote a novel. Happily that English teacher called me 20 years later to say he should never have said that to me.

What’s more exciting for you, being an actor or an author?

Many people have asked me that and it is also a question I asked myself throughout my time writing the book. Trying to say what is more exciting, well, I guess I would have to think about what I find exciting about each.

Acting is so demonstrative; it demands your whole body be present. It’s about portraying and being in the moment…and being in that moment at the same time as so many other people—actors and crew, and an audience! And when you’re acting, you are in constant search to explore that moment where you just feel completely alive in that moment, and when it all comes together, wow, it’s absolutely amazing…and so incredibly magically exciting. And the wonderful thing about acting is doing it with other actors and in front of an audience.

Yet, when I was writing I was also living the story—feeling each character creating their actual existence—that’s also incredible…I mean being the creator giving birth to everything! After I wrote something, I had this strong desire to share it. I was like a kid who searches for a gift for someone special and then I can’t wait for them to unwrap it…I couldn’t wait to share my writing—first with my wife—I would read the chapters out loud when she came home then share it with my family, friends, and the world. And just like an actor—I’m waiting, anticipating…almost holding my breath for a response.

Having had both experiences, the more I think about it, they both have incredible exciting moments—both are very different…both are so rewarding. One thing is that I have loved the creativeness of both process…and although writing has obviously much more alone time, I love being the ultimate creator! Sorry, I can’t really give any definitive answer to the question.

How has your acting career influenced your writing?

Yes, in every way. I live and breathe along in the creation of each character. My daughter and wife often laugh as they watch me write. Constantly contorting my face and making sounds as I write. I think my dialogue is very much influenced by my experiences of working in the world of Shakespeare-Moliere-Sheppard-Brecht-Miller, and the list goes on and on…

It is often believed that almost all writers have had their hearts broken at some point in time, does that remain true for you as well?

Yes! When it’s all said and done, when the last line in the final chapter in the story of your life has been written, I’m pretty sure it is filled with all the ways you tried to forget, revenge and mend those heart breaks. To experience emotional pain is just a part of being human. Some of the greatest writers use their craft to do something with that experience—whether it is to teach, to help, to purge, to heal—they always use that broken experience for something.

Writers are often believed to have a Muse, your thoughts on that?

When I read this question I thought to myself: “Hey, I’ve used that word lots of times. Do I really know what it means?” So I looked it up. There are two definitions of a muse. The first is in Greek and Roman mythology, each of nine goddesses—the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne—who preside over the arts and sciences. And the second is a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. So I would have to say yes, I do have a muse who is the source of inspiration to me. She is also a goddess (not a Roman or Greek; she is a Vietnamese one!) She’s my wife. Why her? Well, besides being my wee pretty Goddess in every way, she listens. She feels I have something to say. She questions me. Her questions always inspire more thoughts, more stories. She is the one I read everything I write to. Funny thing is even though she doesn’t write anything she seems to be part of everything I write. She helps me grow words into stories.

From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?

In my experience of working with many different types of artists throughout my life—actors, writers, dancers, directors…— I have seen a good number of them turn to some kind of stimulant that either enlightened or helped them find that abandon to express themselves. In moderation it sometimes has helped them write or perform but seldom make them successful for very long once they actually become alcoholics or dependant on drugs.

Do you believe it is more challenging to write about beliefs that conflict with the ones you hold yourself?

A very intriguing question! But it would be almost impossible to compose a story without writing any characters that didn’t question your own beliefs. For me personally, I love writing about something that challenges what I thought or felt I have always believed. I think I do that because I love to look at why I believe something. How did I form that belief? Is my belief set in stone and unchangeable? Yet, after that search of analyzing and looking at my own beliefs, it would be difficult to have the message or theme of my book to be something that conflicted with my core belief.

Given the chance to live your life again, what would you change about yourself?

I would write more when I was younger. And not kept it hidden in a journal! And of course I would love to know all the stuff I know now at a younger age. So many things I would not have been shy or afraid of.

Do you keep a diary?

When I was younger I would keep a journal for long periods of time and then suddenly not write anything for months, and in some cases, years! I guess the question would be why? Why was I writing at certain times in my life and not others? And when I look back at when I was writing it was because I was in the midst of change. Change always stimulated me to look at myself and write about it. Although for the past ten years I have written letters to my wife at least four or five times a week. It is not that much different than a journal because I write my deep dark thoughts to her as I would write my own private thoughts to myself. Yet it’s actually better than a journal because I’m not writing to myself but to her. And with doing that I’m relating my words out to the world and they are not hidden in a journal and unread. They already have life! (and who knows maybe I have another book there!)

Does it get frustrating if you are unable to recall an idea you had in your mind some time earlier?

I have one circumstance where this comes to be the most frustrating thing ever! I find some of my best thinking is the moment I wake up. But if I disturb that thinking with a pen or even move too much in the bed, the thoughts get untracked. And then I’d rethink them again and again so the moment I get up I’d write them down. But sadly even then I cannot capture the true spirit sometimes. Of course this might be that when I’m thinking the thought I think I’m so so very brilliant, but after the thought is written down in black in white it doesn’t seem so smart after all! I do have to say though most of the other times when I have an idea that I forget, it’s always my own fault. In my own arrogance I often say to myself or anyone around that I will remember it and don’t need to write it down right away. But after failing to remember an idea 80 percent of the time, you would think I would learn!!!

Do you believe you have done enough to leave a legacy behind?

What a difficult question to answer! How does one measure the worth of their legacy? If I was to measure my legacy with others who have maybe had more universal success then maybe I would shy away from saying I have done enough. But if I measure my legacy by the quality of my work and the relationships I have had in my life and the worth of my actions to others lives, then my answer would be yes. I believe I have done enough to feel my legacy has worth to me and the others that were part of my life.

Do you feel any of your novels best describes you as a person?

I would like to think that ‘because’ is a strong reflection of me as a person. It definitely depicts my core belief that our happiness and purpose in life is always going to come out of how we relate to others and that if we talk, share more and truly listen, we would be the richest and happiest person on the planet!

Fiction or non-fiction? Which is easier?

That would depend on what you mean by easy. I think for me non-fiction would be harder because telling an interesting engaging entertaining non-fiction story has so many more boundaries to it. Like facts!!! Ha ha… With fiction you are the master of your universe!

Did you ever change sentences more than five times just because it didn’t hit the right notes?

Yes and usually to my own detriment! It is a real trap I fall into constantly—trying to say it just right instead of plowing ahead and looking at it later. Although (and I hope this doesn’t sound like an excuse) but sometimes that one line I agonize on forever and over again is the key for everything else to flow out better and stronger.

It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?

I agree. I have so many ideas that I have jotted down with a happy enthusiastic inspiration only to find when I start writing I fall into long periods of staring at a blank page. And that is usually because I feel I don’t have anything to say about the subject because ultimately there is something inside of me that doesn’t have enough belief that it’s important enough for me to write about.

If you were given the opportunity to form a book club with your favorite authors of all time, which legends or contemporary writers would you want to become a part of the club?

Well, my book club would have a few: Mark Twain, Stephen King, William Shakespeare, e.e. cummings, Walt Whitman, Jane Eyre, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling…And got to have Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams. Oh, that would just have be the Monday night club because there are so many others I would love to discuss books with!

How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”?

I would say it has a huge part of the process. I use such a wide variety of music while I’m writing. But I have to watch out because sometimes the music can sway me in a wrong direction. And yet there are times I seek out certain music because I want it to influence me! And when you read ‘because’, you will see that music not only inspired me while I was writing, but then it also became a strong presence, serving as a metaphor and juxtaposition in almost every chapter.

How many children do you have? Do you see any young writers in any of them?

I have one. At the moment she is 14 going on 54 at times! She is amazing that in her teenage angst and concerns, her thoughts and ideas are sometimes so worldly and quite sage at times. I have always thought she was born to be a writer because she is very keen on expressing what she thinks.

Is today’s generation more aware of the literary art or less?

I think most would say less and that is because our school curricula and the older generation still see literary art mostly as the ‘dead’ writers. And as amazing as Shakespeare, London, Steinbeck, Wolfe were to their eras, today’s generation still read much more than any other generation ever did. This generation write more than any other ever did. Look at all the blogs and wordy daily entries of ideas that go out each minute. Does that make them literary art? I don’t know and I don’t think we can compare it yet to the so called literary giants of the past. We have to wait and see what stands the test of time. See what kind of literary art still moves us as human beings.

Is there a particular kind of attire you like to write in?

“What kind of question is that?” was my first thought then after thinking about it and oh my god, it’s true that I do have certain attire to write in that I found most productive. I find I write best if I’m in shorts. Even though it may be minus 20 and snowing heavy outside, I’m most productive in an old T-shirt and shorts… and no socks.

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