Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Friday, November 27, 2009

Interview with Jonathan Langford--"The Novel"

Welcome back, Jonathan. This part of the interview is about your novel itself. I can't imagine anyone being neutral about No Going Back. What kind of response have you received from readers?

Reactions from those who have actually read the book have been mostly positive, though there have been exceptions. Some people who wanted to like the book just aren’t engaged by my characters or writing style. Some don’t like the coarse language used from time by time (not everywhere, and not gratuitously) by teenagers in the book, though no one has told me it was bad enough to stop reading. A few people find the story depressing or disappointingly unresolved, because Paul’s problems don’t all get solved by the end of the book and because there’s no guarantee that things won’t be hard for him going forward. And I’ve had a couple of eccentric reactions to the story, including someone who called me and my publisher latter-day Korihors for supposedly buying into the gay agenda, though what I’ve presented in this book is faithful to the Church’s position as I understand it.

Yes, that is really an odd accusation, because your novel is very supportive of the Church's position. I think every bishop and stake president should read it.

Some of the comments I’ve gotten from people are really amazing. I have to believe that’s because the story I wrote has clicked somehow with something inside themselves. I’m a great believer that the stories we read are collaborations between the author and ourselves as readers. I feel privileged to have had some people care so deeply about my story and its characters. (A selection of reader comments, together with links to reviews the book has received so far, are available on my website,

There are quite a few characters and varied POV’s for such a short novel. What was your reason in using so many points of view?

Actually, No Going Back isn’t all that short — about 110,000 words. (It’s my understanding that 80,000-100,000 is standard length for most novels these days.) I take your comment as a good sign, though, since it suggests the book was a “quick read” for you.

It was a very quick read. I'm amazed that it's over 100,000 words, I figured about 60,000.

I never wanted the story to be just about Paul. A big part of it is the reactions of the people around him, together with things that are going on in their lives that interact with his story. Multiple points of view seemed like a good way to do that, though it made me nervous when I realized that I was essentially tackling multiple characters each of which needed to have his or her own motivations and change process over the course of the story.

My favorite characters are Chad and his dad, the bishop. (Besides Paul, of course) Do you have a favorite character? One who kept demanding and getting more “screen time”?

I like pretty much all the characters — even Sandy, the bishop’s wife, who everyone tends to find a bit irritating. (Okay, I admit that I find her irritating too, but she has positive qualities as well.) Possibly the most fun character to write was Sandy’s friend Ella, who we see only a few times but who is quite vivid in my mind despite that.

I found the bishop's wife character irritating,too, although I understand her purpose in the narrative and why you gave her a POV.

I do have some favorite scenes. Paul’s conversation with the bishop in chapter 10 — that was one of the first scenes I wrote, and it’s a scene that’s absolutely crucial to the story as a whole. Some of the scenes with the GSA. I also think the scene where Chad accuses Paul of being suicidal is hilarious, if it’s not too gauche to find one’s one writing funny. And the scene toward the end where Brother Schmidt bears his testimony. Those are some of my favorites.

My favorite scene is when Paul has his second interview with the bishop, told from the bishop's POV. I loved that scene. Were any of the characters based on real people? Do you know any young men like Paul?

None of my characters are specifically based on anyone, though obviously there are some aspects that remind me of one person or another who I’ve known. Paul in particular isn’t modeled after anyone, though I’ve read and listened to a lot of experiences of individuals who are same-gender attracted, LDS and non-LDS both — usually from adult men looking back on their adolescence.

Thanks, Jonathan. It's always interesting to get the author's insight into his work. Next up will be the third and last part of this interview--"The Publisher."

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