Something to Argue About! The Ten Greatest Novels of All Time?

I ran across this short video recently and thought bloggers here might find it worth pondering. It is a kind of hasty overview of these great works, a little daffy at points, but in aggregate, it is a selection worth considering. The list has actually inspired me to re-read Anna Karenina and a few of the other titles mentioned, great books I haven’t even thought about in some time.

What do you think? Do you agree with the uppity choices?  What would you add? :)

Posted in Literary Classics, Literary Lions, Literature | Tagged , , , , | 18 Comments

And the winner is . . . . !

I’m sure everyone has been on the edge of their seats dying to know who the lucky duck would be to win the free copy of Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools ebook that Open Road Media gave me to raffle (?) off to followers of this blog.

Well, the long wait is over at last! My four year old niece Susie picked with her pudgy little fingers the slip of paper with Lee Ann Howlett’s name on it, so the prize goes to Lee Ann!

You other two sweethearts who kindly participated in this lackadaisical raffle, please accept these two kisses from me blown through cyberspace to your dear supportive cheeks!  I wish I could give you copies too, but we were only allotted one, so that’s the way it is :(

Lee Ann, I hope you enjoy the novel. I think you said you read it once before long ago, but some things are even better the second time around.  I will email you the details for downloading the ebook momentarily.  Congratulations and happy reading!

Looking forward to getting back to things literary here and will shortly.  Until then, fellow book lovers–MJL

Posted in American Literature, American novels, Literature | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Win a Free ebook of Katherine Anne Porter’s SHIP OF FOOLS!

ship of foolsI have been approached by Renata Sweeney of Open Road Integrated Media with a promo offer on their new ebook of Katherine Anne Porter’s classic SHIP OF FOOLS, a great novel that was made into a great film.

I have one to give away and the best way I could think of to do this is to ask fellow bloggers who follow this site to indicate their interest by leaving a comment at the end of this post and either include their email address or watch this blog like a hawk for the announcement of the winner.

After a week or ten days have passed to give all those interested time to throw their name in the pot, I thought I would use the super-scientific high tech method of putting all the names in a hat and having  my four year old niece (one who could hardly be accused of favoritism as she is just learning to read herself) pull the lucky winner’s name out of the hat. How’s that for a fancy lottery app? Don’t laugh or you’ll be disqualified.

To refresh everyone’s memory about this fine book I am going to crib Amazon’s product description and provide a Wikipedia link.

(To tell the truth I’m terrified that 1) this will somehow get all screwed up or 2) Renata’s feelings will get hurt because no one is interested. But she assures me this is very simple, practically fool proof, and we can’t disappoint such a generous, kind and literary lady like Renata, can we? No!)

So leave a comment indicating your burning desire to re-read this stupendous novel on Open Road Integrated Media’s new ebook edition whether you want to or not. You can always give it away–and if you decide to do that think of me because I would love to read it again. There are so few great novelists these days that know how to tell a rip-roaring story and really engage the reader from the first page to the last.

From Amazon–


Katherine Anne Porter’s first and only novel is a masterful allegory of the passions and prejudices that sparked World War II

“August 1931. An ocean liner bound for Germany sets out from the Mexican port city of Veracruz. The ship’s first-class passengers include an idealistic young American painter and her lover; a Spanish dance troupe with a sideline in larceny; an elderly German couple and their fat, seasick bulldog; and a boisterous band of Cuban medical students.

“As the Vera journeys across the Atlantic, the incidents and intrigues of several dozen passengers and crew members come into razor-sharp focus. The result is a richly drawn portrait of the human condition in all its complexity and a mesmerizing snapshot of a world drifting toward disaster.

“Written over a span of twenty years and based on the diary Katherine Anne Porter kept during a similar ocean voyage, Ship of Fools was the bestselling novel of 1962 and the inspiration for an Academy Award–winning film starring Vivien Leigh. It is a masterpiece of American literature as captivating today as when it was first published more than a half century ago.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Katherine Anne Porter, including rare photos from the University of Maryland Libraries.”

Katherine Anne Porter

Good Luck, readers!

Posted in American Literature | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Trials and Tribulations of the Writing Life

I have been watching with some resentment, not to say a gimlet eye, a book (one of three in a series) that I wrote in 2002 as “work for hire” (for a flat fee, no royalties) perform rather well on Amazon. The title is Garden Psalms and it has been out of print for some years. It is a full color beautifully illustrated “devotional” with a ribbon marker, and it did well in stores for Honor Books when it was published. But Honor has been bought and sold several times since then and I don’t know who has the publishing rights (or I’d try to buy them).

Currently it is selling on the used book market for as little as a penny to as much as $25 in some cases and has received rave reviews. This is an old “gifty” book, but very beautiful and comforting to read, which accounts for its continuing psalms

Every penny the re-sellers make from the book goes straight to their pockets.

My distress and frustration over this is just another instance of a writer doing what she has to do to make ends meet early in her career. No, I wasn’t offered any royalties, but it was a nice chunk of change when I needed it and I took the work gratefully. What galls me today is that I was a nobody when I wrote it, but since then have built a writing career and small reputation, and so now the re-sellers are capitalizing on it, for what it’s worth, and using my name with the book. Ironically, the original publishers did not want to use my name with it at all!

If there is a moral to this story, a lesson to be learned, it’s to avoid “work for hire agreements” like the plague. Always try to wheedle some small royalty out of the publisher in any agreement and guard your publishing rights like gold. Books have very long lives and you never know when there will be a resurgence in value in any given book.

My only recourse today would be to purchase the rights from the current rights holder, but he/she has disappeared and the book is still out of print!

Perhaps I shouldn’t be resentful of this, but my name is in headlights over it as author, making hay of the fact that since I wrote that particular book, I went on to write and publish several more, some very well reviewed.

That’s life, I guess, though I still will keep an eye out for the current rights holder to my “psalms” books written so long ago :) I’d love to reissue them in updated versions with new covers.

Posted in publishing, writing | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Where have I been? What have I been doing? Working!

Some of you may know that I run a professional editorial and writing business Margaret Langstaff Editorial.

Well, lately I’ve been swamped with book and poetry manuscripts to copy edit, been acting as a writing coach and turning out ghostwriting projects (books from scratch). Can’t complain; it helps pay the bills and I truly enjoy working with writers. They are my kind of people! But in the past several weeks my schedule has been tight what with getting all those mss. shining bright and ready for publication, and other activities, like blogging, have taken the back seat, pushed  aside for the time being.

between you and me   The title of this blog, as a matter of fact, has been borrowed from a book by Mary Norris, long time copy editor at the New Yorker. If you think this is a dull profession–and even if you don’t–I encourage you to pick up a copy of her witty, erudite chronicles of her years there editing all the big names that wend their way through the magazine. Yes, there are actually many laugh out loud moments when she has to deal with the ticklish sometimes prickly egos of those writers, and much behind the scenes New Yorker lore. Who would have thought a book on copy editing could be a gas? It is!

So for the time being I’m going to have to beg your patience as the editing and writing projects keep trickling in. It won’t always be this way for there is an ebb and flow to this work.

But while we’re on the subject, if you’ve got an editing or writing gig to assign be sure to think of me. Check out my website (see above, there’s a contact form on the website). It gives a complete overview of my services and charges– and the marvelous testimonials I’ve received from my previous clients say it all:)

Posted in editing, Literature, writing | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

“Hope Is the Thing with Feathers”

The following famous Emily Dickinson poem is apropos for any author concluding the arduous process of writing a book (as in your truly). A certain amount of apprehension always attends these times, apprehension in particular that the book will find appreciative readers (after all that work) and receive its fair share of appreciative reviews. One does all one can do and then has to let go allowing the book to meet its fate with the reading public.

I am still a few months away from publication, but I offer this classic Dickinson poem to the thousands of others who have been in this situation and walked in my shoes!


“Hope” is the thing with feathers —

That perches in the soul —

And sings the tunes without the words —

And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —

And sore must be the storm —

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it the chillest land —

And on the strangest Sea —

Yet never in extremity,

It asked a crumb — of Me.


Emily Dickinson Archive

[I still cannot master stanza breaks on WordPress. The poem is actually written in three quatrains!]

Posted in American Literature, Emily Dickinson Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Pain and Perils of Revision

I just “finished” a book I’d been working on for nearly a year. Every writer will understand why I put the word finished in quotes, because, truly, it is never really finished until it is published, is it? The manuscript just sits and smolders with possibilities for re-phrasing, scene enhancement, better character development, and won’t let you go until it heads out the door for publication.

The annals of literature are full of great authors who compulsively revised until the very last minute, so we are in good company, but it doesn’t dispel that vague unease one has that the book could be made “better” with a few more well-placed last minute tweaks.

For me this is the most difficult stage of the writing process, in no way akin to the rush and thrill of writing first and even second drafts. I have a few more months left to continue to torture myself with “tweaks” and slight improvements–and who knows? The book may actually profit from them.

At the very least I’ll know I did all I could, gave it my best shot. Oh, that it were over and done with, but it won’t be until I simply run out of time :)

Posted in Literature, writing | Tagged , , | 12 Comments