For Adam Langer, the story just wasn't over
Chicago Tribune – August 28, 2005
By Jessica Reaves
a fitting follow-up to a hit novel? A sequel, of course.
In author Adam Langer's mind, however, "The Washington Story" is a different
kind of sequel. His 2004 debut, "Crossing California," was a popular and
critical success, raking in reviews that many veteran novelists would kill
The thing is, Langer says, he never really stopped writing "Crossing
Sure, he crafted something like an ending for the purposes of getting the
book out, but the story continued in his mind, so he kept writing it down.
The result is "The Washington Story."
"In a way, I don't think of this as a sequel," Langer said in a telephone
interview from his home in New York City. "I was still really interested in
the lives of the `Crossing California' characters, and I wanted to keep
telling their stories."
Initially, he said, he conceived of the chapters in his new book as five
separate sequels, each of which could stand on its own.
He said his writing technique remained the same throughout the process:
"I left a lot of unanswered questions at the end of both `Crossing
California' and `The Washington Story. And I like to write using a sort of
question-and-answer format, so that kind of setup was really helpful to me."
Also helpful: expanding the characters' worldviews. While "Crossing
California" is very much a novel of and about Chicago, "The Washington
Story" takes the characters beyond their native city, and into New York and
"When I was writing `California,' I had an image of characters within a very
narrow boundary system," Langer said. "But with this book, I wanted to
explore what happens when those boundaries are ruptured, what happens when
characters advance not only outside their neighborhood into the rest of
Chicago but outside Chicago and into the rest of the world."
Of course, Chicago still plays a large role in "The Washington Story," as
evidenced by the title, which is not a reference to the nation's muggy
capital but to Chicago's former mayor. The tenure of Harold Washington
provides a backdrop for Langer's characters, and researching it gave the
author a new perspective on the way history is preserved.
"I hunted around for audio of Harold Washington's speeches," Langer said,
"and I was totally shocked by how few were available. He was a wonderful
speaker, and there's really a dearth of information, historical context,
records, especially when you consider how seminal a figure he was in 20th
Langer, a Chicago native and child of the 1970s and '80s, was able to recall
much of the novel's history, but he went back and double-checked specifics.
"This era is very fresh in my mind," he said. But there were some things
that surprised him in retrospect. "Looking back at the 1983 campaign and
election," he said, "I was really astonished to see that [Richard M.] Daley,
not Washington, got the endorsements of most city newspapers. That's not at
all how I remembered things."
Now that the second (although probably not last, he hints) chapter of the
West Rogers Park characters is closed, what's next for Langer?
He and his wife just welcomed a new baby, and he's working on something that
is "completely different from these last two books."
"It's not set in Chicago, and it's not a period piece."
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