The Penmen Profile: New England Historical Fiction Author Ed Londergan

by Rebecca LeBoeuf

Ed LonderganEd Londergan‘s interest in American history is reflected throughout his novels. His Brookfield saga, consisting of “The Devil’s Elbow,” “The Long Journey Home,” and “The Farmhouse,” the unfinished final book of the saga, have a focus on the New England colonial time period.

“The Devil’s Elbow” was a 2013 New England Book Festival honorable mention for juvenile fiction and “The Long Journey Home” was a 2014 New England Book Festival honorable mention for regional fiction.

Londergan has a bi-weekly column on regional history in the Quaboag Current, poetry entitled, “I Am the Poem,” and has articles published for Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships. Currently, Londergan works as a freelance writer and editor.

Have you always written?
Yes, I have. I always enjoyed writing book reports in junior high and high school because not only did I get to read the book but to write about it too. I first got serious about my writing in college. I had a couple of short stories published in magazines now probably defunct. My payment was a free copy. Life got in the way of my continued writing, with the exception of work-related business articles, until March of 2008, when I bought a notebook and started writing and have not stopped. That was how my first book, “The Devil’s Elbow,” began; I just started writing.

What’s your process in developing your storyline and characters?
I do not outline a story because my creative mind would not stick to it. I have a general idea of the storyline and usually start with what I want to happen in the last chapter. For example, in the book I am working on now, the main characters get married at a New England inn on a beautiful fall day. So I need to develop the love story throughout the book.

I think of events that can happen to the main characters as the story progresses. I am not afraid to try anything new. Maybe it will go in a good direction and work and maybe it won’t. If it does work, great. If it doesn’t then I start over.

As for character development, the majority develop themselves. They take on a personality I did not intend. Sometimes when I am writing I will put down a few sentences that I have in mind for that character and then my fingers take over and the character just happens.

One thing I do with all my characters is to make them as real as possible. I want the reader to recognize that type of person from their own experience whether it is a kind and gentle person to a bully or tyrant. I think of Norman Rockwell and how his paintings portray people everyone feels they know.

My major creative period comes just as I am waking up. Sometimes whole sections come to me. Once, I got up and, without coffee, sat and wrote 4,000 words non-stop. It was like taking dictation from my brain.

What challenges do you face in your writing, and how do you overcome them? 
My major challenge lately is to continue writing. It has been in fits and starts and this current book is taking far too long. I should have had it done the end of last year. I have been so busy lately my creative spark has taken a short vacation. I know it will be back I am just not sure when.

I do suffer from writer’s block now and then. My method of dealing with that is to just write something, anything. Mostly it is a stream of consciousness type thing – ‘why am I writing this? It makes no sense. I have no idea what will come out of this but maybe something. My favorite color is purple and I like sunny days.’ All of a sudden something will click and I start putting that idea down and I am off. That does not always happen, though. At times, I just walk away disgusted that I can’t come up with something.

What has the road to publication been like for you?book jacket
It has been an interesting process. When I finished “The Devil’s Elbow,” I decided to try to get an agent. I went on and, and found agents who specialized in historical fiction. I put together what I thought was a great query letter and emailed it and whatever the requirements were—first chapter, first ten pages, etc., to that agent thinking I’d get a phone call or two in the first week because I was sure the book was that good. Well, that didn’t happen. I sent the query to 84 agents, received responses from maybe 20 or so, most of which said something to the effect of “sounds good but that type of thing is not on my list right now.” I then began to look for a publisher and found one through a profile in Worcester Magazine. I contacted her, she looked at my manuscript and agreed to publish it. It was one of the best days of my life. Things did not go smoothly, though. She was a one-person shop, had limited resources, did not fully edit the manuscript, and was contentious most of the time. However, she did get my book printed and distributed to major outlets and listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Several months into our relationship she called and let me know she was getting out of the business. To keep my book in print I had to self-publish. I found it to be time-consuming and expensive. A good editor will charge $3.00 per page so a 400-page book costs $1,200. A graphic designer will charge a few hundred to several hundred dollars for the cover design and interior layout. Once I had the process down, it became much easier for my second book.

The main advantage of having a publisher is their distribution network that is key to literary success. The major issue is financial. A publisher will usually pay an author ten percent of the wholesale price of a book. For example, if the retail price is $14.95, the wholesale price may be $8.97, a 40 percent discount which is typical. So an author would receive 90 cents for every book sold.

With self-publishing, the author gets everything less the cost of printing for a bound book, and between 30-70 percent of the retail price for an e-book.

How do you market your work?
There are so many ways to market that it is overwhelming at times. To date, I have done book signings at local libraries and regional events and speak on the topics of my books. I have a website, but have not used Facebook or Twitter to any great extent, though I should. I write a bi-weekly newspaper column, teach writing and publishing classes, and do television and radio interviews.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Most everything. I never realized that the work really begins when the final draft is complete. I thought that the creative part would be fun and it is, but I never expected it to be in stops and starts, twists and turns. I thought I’d sit down and bang out a book. Boy, was I naïve.

Who are the authors that have inspired you most, and how have they inspired you?
Stephen King, John Steinbeck, Paulo Coelho, Kenneth Roberts, Clarence Budington Kelland, and Robert B. Parker.

I like Stephen King because of the way he tells a story and his wonderful character development. You feel like you know his characters from your own life. I am not really into horror but love the way he puts a story together. I consider John Steinbeck the best American writer I have ever read. He puts a visceral emotion in his stories, something that touches the soul. Paulo Coelho tells magical tales that are uplifting and make you feel good. Kenneth Roberts wrote about historical events in colonial America and was widely acclaimed in his day. Clarence Budington Kelland is an author unknown to most everyone. In the early 1900’s, he wrote the boys’ adventure series of “Mark Tidd,” a collection of six books that give a glimpse of a simpler time. Robert B. Parker is the best crime mystery writer America ever produced. His way with dialogue is tremendous, conveying both seriousness and a sense of irreverent and risqué humor. When I read, it is to enjoy the story but also to learn what makes a good book and what doesn’t.

If you could keep just three books in your library, which would you choose and why?
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck because it is such a powerful tale. It is my go-to book that I never tire of reading. “The Stand” by Stephen King is, I think, his best book. In one way it is a simple tale of good versus evil and in another, it is a complex story of intertwined characters all seeking something different. “Mark Tidd’s Citadel” by Clarence Budington Kelland because it makes me feel good. My dad read it to me when I was a little boy and, because of that, it has always had a magical quality to it.