The book already has won high praise from respected critics, including the much-lauded Kirkus Reviews. But Langan’s talent didn’t come out of nowhere. Before law school, he earned a master of fine arts in creative writing from George Mason. In fact, his parents encouraged him to write for a living. “I come from a family of lawyers. They all wanted me to be something else,” he says.
But when your father, grandfather and three older brothers have the law running through their veins, it’s hard to break the trend. Langan always knew he was going to be an attorney. For the first years after law school, he worked as a litigator in Washington, D.C. However, his MFA was always close at hand. Punching away at the keyboard during off hours, he began to mold his own style of character-driven suspense.
“You read a lot of mystery novels that are just improbable. Dark Horse is a real story in a real place. It’s something that could happen,” he says. That real place is home. Throughout the novel, clues lead Rigopoulos to local landmarks like the Carrier Dome and Verona’s Turning Stone Resort and Casino. It’s a classic case of an author writing what he knows.
Langan works full time for U.S. Magistrate Judge George H. Lowe, so carving out the time to sit down and piece together stories is a pretty tall order. For support, he turns to his wife, Sarah. “Mike’s always told me that he’s going to write until the day he dies,” she says. “You’re not going to tell your kids that they’re not going to be on American Idol. I treat it the same way.”
Horse sense: DeWitt attorney Mike Langan channels his creative writing degree into his first novel.
In addition to taking care of daughters Nora, 5, and Georgia, 2, while her husband works, Sarah acts as in-house editor and test audience. When it comes to expressing her opinion, there’s no holding back. She admits that Jane Austen-esque classics are more her thing. “I’m pretty critical,” she said. “At this point, we have an understanding that I’m going to say what I feel.”
Talent breeds well-written sentences, but a solid work ethic leads to well-written novels. “One of my biggest assets is patience,” Langan notes. And he doesn’t mind getting up early, either. Most mornings, the alarm clock sounds at 5 a.m. and for two hours before work, Langan sits at his desk plotting his characters’ next moves. Sarah says that even when the couple is on vacation, her husband passes up afternoons at the beach to write in their hotel room. “When he is in writing mode, he’s incredibly disciplined,” she adds.
Dark Horse is available at independent bookstores locally, but Langan doesn’t plan on giving up the career that’s carried him to where he is today. When retirement rolls around, writing may fill up his days. But not right now. “I’m not going to quit my job,” he says. “I absolutely love working in federal court.”
Langan downplayed his writing career to the point that he didn’t tell any friends about his book until it was well on its way to being published. He wasn’t shy about it; he just didn’t want to make a big deal out of an achievement that hadn’t happened yet. “It’s not something you talk about until it’s done and sold.” Now that Dark Horse sits on local bookshelves, time can be devoted to Ready for the Defense, his second novel that’s due out later this year.
Catch Mike Langan at Common Grounds Coffeehouse, 35 Albany St., Cazenovia, on Saturday, March 29, at 1 p.m. He checks in on his undergraduate alma mater by visiting the Colgate University bookstore, 3 Utica St., Hamilton, on April 12 at 2 p.m.