With the release of The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies this month, author John Langan now has two collections and one novel under his belt. I recently reviewed The Wide, Carnivorous Sky, and I found it to be an astounding collection of short fiction. I very much enjoyed his first book of stories, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, yet with the new collection it's clear that Mr. Langan just gets better and better. Below is an interview recently conducted with this maestro of horror.
AD: It seems that your work continues to grow even more impressive the more you write. Which of your stories do you feel are your biggest accomplishments and/or your favorites?
JL: Thank you! It’s funny: with most stories I write, I tend to come very close to hating them by the time I’m done with them. Were it not for the fact that I’ve promised them to one editor or another, I would be happy to put them away, never to see the light of day again. However, once some time has passed and they’ve been published, enough distance sets in for me to view them a bit more dispassionately. (I kid you not, there’s something about seeing them in print, in a different layout than the one in which I wrote them, that helps this process.) At that point, it’s a little easier for me to judge what they do in terms of what my intent for them was. Most of the time, I’m pretty happy with the result. This is not to say that there aren’t word choices I wish I hadn’t made, sentences that couldn’t be smoother, paragraphs that couldn’t have been assembled more elegantly. But I’ve tried to let go of whatever flaws I find in the fiction I’ve published, and move ahead. Especially in more recent years, that’s a process which has been made easier for me by more editors asking me for my work. As far as ranking my stories goes, I’m not sure I’ve accomplished enough to do that. With pretty much every story I’ve written, there’s something I’ve been trying to do in it that I haven’t done before, not in that exact way. Sometimes that’s the ambitious metafiction of a piece like “Technicolor;” other times, it’s the more straightforward creep-out of a story like “Hyphae” (which appeared in Orrin Grey and Sylvia Moreno-Garcia’s fine Fungi anthology). For that reason, I’m pretty fond of all of them.
AD: Your work, especially this collection, touches on a variety of horror. In this collection alone there are stories about Poe, vampires, Lovecraft's Mythos and ghouls, werewolves, and zombies. As a reader of the genre, what type of horror works best for you?
JL: There’s no type of horror I don’t like, from the subtlest ghost story to the most over-the-top monster fest. What makes the difference for me is the way in which the writer treats the material, a kind of seriousness of intent which is revealed in the various elements that constitute the story. It’s not the same thing as fine writing, or deft characterization, or clever plotting—though all of those things may be present, and more, besides—it’s an underlying commitment to the story at hand as something meaningful—I want to say as the expression of a vision; though not necessarily one that’s been formally set down. Were I a more subtle and articulate critic, I would try to work out the exact mechanism(s) by which the story conveys this sense to the reader. As it is, I’ll offer the example of my good friend Laird Barron’s work. You may not like whatever story or novel of Laird’s it is you’re reading, but there’s no doubt of the absolute integrity of his effort. The same thing might be said of other contemporary horror writers whose work I admire, from Michael Cisco to Sarah Langan to Livia Llewellyn to Paul Tremblay. They believe in what they’re doing.
AD: As a writer with two collections and one novel under his belt, as well as numerous pieces of short fiction sprinkled throughout several "best-of" anthologies, it is safe to say you've accomplished quite a bit. Do you have any other authorial goals you would like to meet?
JL: There’s a lot I would like to do in the years ahead. I’m working to finish my second novel, whose tentative title is The Fisherman, and I have plans for another five novels in various stages of development. There are something like a dozen stories of differing lengths I’d like to get done sooner rather than later. One of my stories, “How the Day Runs Down,” which I wrote as a kind of closet-drama, was put on in Manhattan by Nicu’s Spoon a couple of years ago, and that left me with the taste to try some more writing for the stage. I’d very much like to reach more readers. I would like to improve as a writer. All of this said, if you had told the eighteen-year-old me—let alone, the fourteen-year-old me who discovered Stephen King’s Christine and was forever changed by it, polarized—that I would do everything I have done up to this point, he would have been wildly excited. I try to remember that. A sense of perspective, while difficult to maintain, is worth holding onto.
AD: Any advice for aspiring horror writers?
JL: Don’t do it unless you love it. If you love it enough to do it, then do it to the very best of your ability—to beyond the best of your ability. Don’t be complacent. Write about things that are difficult for you to face, about yourself, about others. Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous. Read and re-read what’s come before. Write. Write. Write.
AD: What can readers expect from you in the future, both far and near?
JL: Well, as you know, my second collection, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, is now available from Hippocampus Press. Recently, I’ve had stories in Simon Strantzas’s Shadows Edge anthology and Eric Guignard’s After Death anthology. I’ll have new stories in Joe Pulver’s Thomas Ligotti tribute anthology, The Grimscribe’s Puppets—out soon, I believe—and Ellen Datlow’s Lovecraft’s Monsters—out in early 2014, I think. I’m planning to have my second novel in to my agent this summer, and to be shopping my third collection of short fiction around in the fall.
AD: Mr. Langan, I would like to thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
JL: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for talking with me.