Secret Library Podcast

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The Book Dr.

#99 M.L. Longworth

ML Longworth has one of the greatest writing stories I've heard so far.

After the tech company her husband worked for in Silicon Valley was sold in the last 1990s, ML Longworth tried something bold. Before leaving for a family vacation in France, she typed the following search term into a browser: computer-jobs-France. What followed was a series of incredible coincidences that lead to she and her husband and daughter moving to Aix-en-Provence. You'll want to listen in to hear her version.

When she moved to France, ML Longworth was not a professional novelist. She began writing about food and culture in southern France and had a novel that she hid in a drawer for years. When she was offered the opportunity to teach writing at NYU's campus in Paris, the interviewer casually mentioned that she must have a book in the works. With the promise of a job as a writing professor, the novel came out of the drawer and on to publication. Now, the Verlaque and Bonnet mysteries are a much-loved series that features the region of Aix and its food and culture as much as the mysteries that unfold there.

If you've ever dreamed of running off to another country, or wondered if you could build a career as a writer without the traditional MFA, here is a story that will fuel your wildest hopes. I know it did for me- I haven't been able to stop thinking about this conversation since we recorded.

Discussed in Episode 99 with ML Longworth

  • Has lived in France for the last 20 years. Moved there almost on a lark when her husband sort of fell into a job there.
  • Planned to stay for two years.
  • Moved into an apartment downtown. Didn’t join any ex-pat groups. Just hit the ground running.
  • Started writing because she had time. Husband was at work. Kid at school and she had no working papers for France.
  • Had taken a weekend writing class in California and enjoyed it.
  • Submitted first work to the NYTimes. Rejected. Sent it to the Washington Post. Rejected but with the advice to “listen to your senses.” Rewrote it and was accepted. Then was writing freelance travel articles about, mostly, Provence.
  • Then applied for a job as a creative writing teacher at NYU’s Paris campus. Showed her journalism work. Dean asked if she had a book in progress. She had 3/4 manuscript of her first novel tucked away, afraid to finish it. She said yes. Then immediately pulled it out and started trying to finish it.
  • Writing her mystery series.
  • She starts with the characters. Spends a lot of time just figuring out who they are.
  • Wanted a different main character than stereotypical hard-drinking police investigator. So it’s a married couple.
  • “I think my food writing background comes out in my books.” On her descriptions of place and setting.
  • “It’s time I go back into another old house.” On writing a ghost story.
  • Book coming out this spring is #7 in the series.
  • “I’m still a bit up in the clouds.” On the way her career has taken off.
  • Moving to France, as opposed to growing up there, gives her a bit of the eye of an outsider when it comes to cultural practices and she makes a point to try and write cultural details into her stories.
  • Reads the small local paper and frequently finds small details and stories in it that she’ll try to reuse.
  • “The best way to learn how to write is just write and keep writing.” On coming to writing from a non-writing background.
  • “Be careful with your memoir, you can’t just be writing about yourself all the time.” On working with her students and what she learns from their writing.
  • “That’s the worst thing you can do is just look at the blank page.” On recognizing when it’s time to take a walk & step away from the writing for a moment.
  • “If you’re writing and you know you’re not feeling inspired but you’re just writing to get something down on paper, it’s never a waste.” On writing, even when it feels like it’s not working.
Caroline Donahue