When Mike Langan begins to develop characters for his books, he browses through magazines and clips pictures of how he imagines them to look.
“I love to make up stuff,” said Langan, a 1986 Jamesville-DeWitt High School graduate. “I know what they’re going to say, I know what they’re like, I know how tall they are, what they weigh” — but a tangible visual aid helps him get a better feel for who he’s creating along the way.
His process must work, because the Fayetteville attorney and writer recently won two national literary awards for his second legal mystery novel, “Ready for the Defense.”
On March 5, Langan earned an award from the Fourth Annual Reader Views’ Literary Competition for the best book set in the Mid-Atlantic region. Two days later, he earned an award for the best mystery/suspense novel in the 10th annual EPPIE competition, given by the Electronically Published Internet Connection, also known as EPIC.
In “Ready for the Defense” first-year lawyer Hank Fisher is left defending a high profile client after his boss, the senior lawyer on the case, is murdered. The plot thickens as Fisher’s sleuthing uncovers irregularities in campaign funding and hints of involvement with germ warfare.
Before becoming a lawyer, Langan studied literature at George Mason University where he earned his masters of fine arts in creative writing. His literary heroes, such as Ray Carver, John Updike and Ernest Hemingway, had a big influence on his life as a writer, however, his passion lies in genre fiction. Langan’s all-time inspiration is Elmore Leonard, a prolific writer known for his westerns and crime/contemporary themes.
“All the literary stuff I was writing had these unhappy endings,” Langan said. “I thought I should write what I like. You’re married to the thing for a couple of years, so you can’t really fake it.”
Langan’s novels draw on his experience as a former litigator in Syracuse and Washington D.C. He currently works in Syracuse as a career law clerk in federal court.
“I know legal situations, law settings that can lend themselves to a mystery,” Langan said. “You have to create this world that moves people around and at least I know this.”
He did try his hand at writing a romance once but is unlikely to do it again.
“It was the worst romance,” Langan said. “It had no steamy stuff in it, which is why, you know, it stunk.”
Since Langan first published his work, he’s toured local bookstores and libraries including the Fayetteville Free and DeWitt Community libraries. His audiences range from as few as two or three listeners to 30 or 40. His advice to budding writers is to set realistic goals, lower expectations and make time to write a little bit every day.
“Don’t think you’re going to hit a home run, and within one year write a novel, finish that last sentence and smoke a cigarette,” he said. “And then think you’re gonna make $100,000.”
Langan’s first two books, which he wrote simultaneously, took about five years to complete, with a host of revisions made along the way.
“I think writing is rewriting,” Langan said. “‘Dark Horse’ took literally five years from when I first started doing an outline to when I held it in my hands. You gotta be patient.”
His other piece of advice? Sacrifice.
“I like to play golf which is an absolute killer because it’s five hours,” Langan said. “Stringing together five hours to write is like gold. You can blow that out in a golf course. You gotta sacrifice. I sacrificed golf which is comical — because I stink at golf.”
Where to buy Langan’s books
“Books are available at fine booksellers like the trunk of my car,” Langan claims, as well as Creekside Books in Skaneatelas, River’s End Bookstore in Oswego and the Colgate Bookstore in Hamilton.
“Dark Horse,” a finalist in the mystery genre for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year, is available at the DeWitt Barnes & Noble. Online, you can find his books on Amazon.com. To learn more about Mike Langan, visit his Web site, mikelangan.com.
Mike Langan will begin a serial novel to be published in the Eagle Bulletin later this month. The story is about a DEA agent who is investigating an ex-con’s criminal activities which involve plans to blackmail his former defense lawyer, and schemes to set up a meth lab in the country.