TIH 159: John Langan on The Fisherman, Training Your Mind For Good Ideas, and Creative Writing

TIH 159 John Langan on The Fisherman, Training Your Mind For Good Ideas, and Creative Writing

In this podcast John Langan talks about The Fisherman, training your mind for good ideas, and Creative Writing.

About John Langan

John Langan is the author of two novels, The Fisherman (Word Horde 2016) and House of Windows (Night Shade 2009), and two collections of stories, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (Hippocampus 2013) and Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (Prime 2008).

Show notes

  • [04:40] Childhood
  • [12:50] Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters
  • [26:35] Forthcoming short story collection/succubus opening tale
  • [33:25] House of Windows and The Fisherman, short stories that became novels/start at the top theory
  • [42:15] Planning stories
  • [45:55] Impact of children on writing
  • [52:20] Typical working day
  • [59:20] Laird Barron
  • [01:06:30] Teaching Creative Writing
  • [01:17:00] Training your mind to bring you good ideas

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Get a FREE audiobook download and 30-day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/thisishorror. Over 180,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player. This week we recommend The Fisherman by John Langan and In The Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson.

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Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing

Silent Hill meets David Lynch in Betty Rocksteady’s Like Jagged Teeth. The guys following her home are bad enough, but when Jacalyn’s Poppa comes to the rescue, things only get worse. After all, he’s been dead for six years. When she ends up back at Poppa’s new apartment, nothing feels right. The food here doesn’t taste how food should taste. The doors don’t work how doors are supposed to work. And something’s not right with Poppa. Guilt and sickness spiral Jacalyn into a nightmarish new reality of hallucinations and body horror. Like Jagged Teeth by Betty Rocksteady is available wherever nightmares are sold.


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Michael David Wilson [00:00:11]:
Welcome to the This Is Horror Podcast. I'm your host Michael David Wilson, and I'm joined as always by my co-host Bob Pastorella. How are you today, Bob?

Bob Pastorella [00:00:22]:
I'm doing great, Michael. How are you doing?

Michael David Wilson [00:00:25]:
I'm good, thank you. We just finished a two part interview with John Langan, so a lot covered. Of course we talked about the fisherman, we talked about creative writing, we talked about John's childhood and his journey as a writer. And there's a lot of great tips in terms of writing, in terms of the writer's life and think everyone's gonna get a lot out of this episode.

Bob Pastorella [00:00:58]:
Oh, I agree. He teaches, you know, he's in a great position because he teaches creative writing, teaches literature, and so he's, you know, he's an educator and he's a writer. He's someone who's definitely into the craft and he's, he's something else. I'm telling you, he, this is, I think our listeners are going to really, really enjoy these.

Michael David Wilson [00:01:24]:
Yeah, and it's a two hour conversation but honestly we could have spoken for 2 hours more and probably longer. So I reckon we'll be getting him back on the show at some point.

Bob Pastorella [00:01:37]:
Yes, definitely.

Michael David Wilson [00:01:39]:
Well, before we get into the episode, let's have a quick word from our sponsors. So first up, perpetual motion machine Publishing.

Bob Pastorella [00:01:51]:
Silent hill meets David lynch and Betty Rocksteadys. Like jagged teeth, the guys following her home are bad enough but when Jacquelines Papa comes to the rescue, things only get worse. After all hes been dead for six years. When she ends up back at Papas new apartment, nothing feels right. The food here doesnt taste how food should taste. The doors dont work how doors are supposed to work. And somethings not right with Papa. Guilt and sickness spiral Jacqueline into a nightmarish new reality of hallucinations and body horror.

Bob Pastorella [00:02:17]:
Like jagged Teeth by Betty Rocksteady is available wherever nightmares are sold.

Michael David Wilson [00:02:23]:
And our second sponsor is audible. Head over to www.audibletrial.com listishorror for a free 30 day trial and free audiobook. There are over 180,000 titles to choose from and Bob has the recommendation for this week.

Bob Pastorella [00:02:46]:
Shocker. It's going to be in the Valley of the sun by Andy Davidson which if you can't read it then listen to it because you need it in your life.

Michael David Wilson [00:02:56]:
Yeah. And if you head back just one episode then you can listen to our conversation with Andy Davidson.

Bob Pastorella [00:03:06]:
Yes definitely. Highly recommend it.

Michael David Wilson [00:03:09]:
Alright. And I believe Bob, that you have John Langan's bio.

Bob Pastorella [00:03:15]:
Yes. To do John Langan is the author of two novels, the Fisherman and the recently re-released House of Windows. He also has two collections of stories, the wide carnivorous sky and other monstrous geographies, and Mister Gaunt and other uneasy encounters. With Paul Tremblay, he co-edited 30 years of monsters, and he's also one of the founders of the Shirley Jackson Awards, for which he served as a juror during his first three years. Currently, he reviews horror and dark fantasy for Locust magazine. In 2017, his next collection, Sefrera and other betrayals, will be published by Hippocampus Press. And like I mentioned, diversion books is going to be releasing, I believe it just came out like this week or last week, his first novel, which is House of Windows. And John lives in New York, Hudson Valley with his wife, younger son, and many animals.

Bob Pastorella [00:04:12]:
He teaches at SUNY New Paltz. Recently, he earned his black belt in the korean martial art of Tang Su do. And that is John Langen.

Michael David Wilson [00:04:23]:
Alright, and with that said, let's do it. Let's get John Langan on the This Is Horror podcast.

Bob Pastorella [00:04:30]:
Let's do it.

Michael David Wilson [00:04:40]:
Kion, welcome to the This Is Horror podcast.

John Langan [00:04:45]:
Thank you so much for having me on.

Michael David Wilson [00:04:47]:
I don't, to begin with, if we could talk about what kind of kid you were.

John Langan [00:04:53]:
Well, the juvenile records are sealed, but I. I can tell you I was actually, I was not a great reader of fiction or of books, I guess I should say, when I was a child, when I was a kid, for some reason, which may have to do with the fact that I see this weird prescription in my glasses, so that my right eye is more or less fine and my left eye is without glasses on, legally blind. And I often wondered if that had something to do with this. But when I was a kid, my mom would bring home books from the library. She would try to find things that interest me, and I just had no interest in reading that way. What I did love to read were comic books. And I read and collected. I mean, there was probably a small fortune that was thrown away at some point of the comics that I collected.

John Langan [00:05:51]:
And I, in part, I guess I love to draw. And so as time went on, I thought to myself, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to be a comic book artist. And so a lot of my. Yeah, a lot of my reading was primarily in the Marvel comics of the, of the 1970s. So things like Conan the Conan the barbarian comic, the Mighty Thor, Spider-Man, a whole lot of Spider man and the Fantastic Four. And this is a time when the Spider man title Spidey was the big hit. There were a lot of Spider man titles.

John Langan [00:06:27]:
Marv Wolfman and Len Wein co wrote a lot of them, and a lot of the Fantastic Four, too. And I think that in retrospect, I realized that they really gave me a schooling. And I guess, you know, melodrama, basically, which is, of course, the lifeblood of comic books. And then Wolfman would go on a few years later to write for DC Comics, their kind of resuscitated teen titans book with George Pérez's gorgeous art and a comic book with Gene Colan called the Night Force. I had sort of missed Wolfman and Colan's run on Tomb of Dracula, but I came in on time for the Night Force, which was 13 issues, I think, when Wolfman did it, and for what it was, it was brilliantly done. It was unsettling. And Gene, Colan's art, which was something I feel like when I was a kid, I didn't appreciate Colan as much as I appreciated people like George Perez and John Byrne, people who are very exact in their.

John Langan [00:07:28]:
And extremely detailed. Colin's art was so much more moody and expressionistic, I guess you would say. And now I look at it, and I think, oh, my God, this guy was a genius. So, yeah, so I read a lot of. I read a lot of comic books. I drew a lot of comic books. I spent a lot of time.

John Langan [00:07:46]:
It's funny, I was frightened of horror movies, but I loved what I called monster movies. And those were things like Godzilla, King Kong, I guess we call them Kaiju today. But big monsters didn't frighten me in the same way that Frankenstein did. The big monster. I mean, I guess it could squash your house. But for some reason, it never struck me. Maybe because I lived in the country and kaiju tended to concentrate their attention on city locations. So I guess I felt being in the city, being in the country, excuse me, I was probably safe from them.

John Langan [00:08:25]:
So I would watch. We used to have a thing here on the local ABC affiliate out of New York City. It was the 430 movie, and every day at 430, they showed, usually a highly truncated film. And leading up to the 06:00 news, and every now and again, it would be monster week. I lived for monster week. I would get the tv guide and I would page, oh, Monster Week is coming on. That's awesome. What am I going to get to see this week? And it tended to be a lot of the same things, you know, Godzilla versus the smog monster.

John Langan [00:08:59]:
I saw far more than anybody should. But there would also be things, you know, Mechagodzilla or Rodan or something like that. So I gained a sort of partial understanding of the kind of Kaiju universe. And I guess otherwise, I was the oldest of four kids. It was a very. The oldest of four kids living in a very tiny house. So, you know, it was a loud and spirited place. I played a little bit of soccer when I was a kid, but I was never that much particularly good at it, I guess, lacking basic things like coordination.

John Langan [00:09:38]:
And so when I was, you know, I was kind of going along, I thought, to be a comic book artist. I had actually, when I was about twelve, I had won a couple of medals in a local art contest. And then. Then when I was 14, I guess it would be. I went to high school. And this was the time that Stephen King's Christine was released in paperback. And I had actually read Cujo the year before and hadn't really done anything for me. But all of a sudden, when I read Christine, man, that was it.

John Langan [00:10:12]:
I was magnetized. It was this feeling, reading this book that I had to do this. This was exactly the kind of thing that I was meant to be doing. You know, even at the time, I recognized that what I was getting in that book was not an entirely accurate portrait of high school existence. That although I identified with. I think it's Arnie, the guy who's the nominal. Well, he's one of the protagonists. He's kind of the loser figure.

John Langan [00:10:41]:
I realized that he was still a caricature. I wasn't as bad off as he was. And the guys in the novel who were the bullies, I could see them reflected or refracted in those types of guys in my own class and upperclassmen. But I also recognized that it wasn't an entirely. It wasn't a one to one fit. It wasn't entirely accurate. But I think I loved the idea of those. Of that setting, that attempt at a sort of a realistic, if melodramatic.

John Langan [00:11:15]:
There we are, back to melodrama setting brought together with the fantastic, brought together with its insane ghost car that was trying to kill you. And that was it. I mean, that was the turning point. And in the years to come, I spent a good deal of high school just devouring everything I could get my hand on. First by King and then reading King's Danse Macabre. He turned me on to all sorts of other writers. And so he gave me a kind of a reading list. And Peter Straub in particular, reading his ghost story, which King recommended, and then Shadowland, I used to go, I used to take those books out of our local library and just go back once I was done with them.

John Langan [00:11:59]:
On the one hand, I felt I had gotten or gotten part of them, but I hadn't gotten all of them. That was it. That was. I love that. I love that feeling that there was more to this book for me to get. I guess it could make you feel sort of angry or resentful, but I just thought, oh, man, that I can go back and be real and I'm going to get more out of it. And, and, yeah, that was, that was kind of, in a way, that was me sort of set on the set on the. Because my high school also had no art program.

John Langan [00:12:27]:
I had mechanical drawing, and, you know, had I had, they had a really good art program, who knows where I would have, where I would have gone, maybe into horror comics. But since they didn't have an art program and I had just discovered Christine, that really steered me in the direction of becoming a writer and ultimately becoming a writer of horror fiction.

Michael David Wilson [00:12:48]:
Yeah. And talking about Danse Macabre, I was, like, looking at your anthology, co-edited with Paul Tremblay, Creatures 30 Years of Monsters. Yeah, yeah, I know.

Bob Pastorella [00:13:02]:
Love that book. Love that book.

John Langan [00:13:05]:
Thank you. Thank you. We worked really hard on it.

Michael David Wilson [00:13:09]:
Yeah. You said that this was almost a response or at least inspired by Dans Macabre in the sense that that had explored the period from 1950 to 1980. So you wanted creatures and stories that we're exploring more from 1980 to 2010.

John Langan [00:13:32]:
So I love Danse Macabre. I felt that it was this wonderful introduction for me as somebody who had discovered Stephen King, loved Stephen King, and wanted to know more about horror fiction and film and such. As I said before, I was kind of a wimp when it came to horror film, so I wanted to at least know what it was. I was too afraid to watch. And so Dans Macabre had just been this wonderful entry point for me, and it also offered these, these really, to my mind, kind of provocative ways to think about horror and what horror was up to. And I always hoped that King would write a sequel. I hoped that he would do Danse Macabre two, another 30 years of horror or something. And that didn't happen.

John Langan [00:14:17]:
I mean, who knows? Hope springs eternal. Maybe he will at some point. So I'd always had it in mind that, well, maybe I would do that at some point, right. Like a sort of a survey of horror from 1980 to 2010. And it would, in part, I guess, it would be addressing the period in which I had really grown up and become aware of horror fiction and film and such. Well, I still haven't gotten around to that myself, but I always, along with that, I had the idea that it would be interesting to edit a couple of anthologies, and I thought it would be neat to have an anthology that covered that period from 1980 to 2010, because King had in his reading list in Danse Macabre and also his long chapter on horror fiction, he'd kind of given you, he pointed, you pointed me in the direction of all kinds of writers and stories, novels, what have you. And so I thought that it would be a neat idea if I wasn't going to write the book, I could edit the anthology. And at one point, you know, in essence, what happened was Paul Tremblay was talking about it, because I told him about the idea, he'd done some editing, and I told him about the idea, and he would keep coming back to it when we talked on the phone.

John Langan [00:15:33]:
And I would say to him, ah, dude, you know, you do it. And finally he said, look, I really want to do this. And I said, you know what? That's great. You do it. Go with my blessing. And he said, no, I won't do it without you. I'll do all the work. And I was like, well, who can turn down an offer like that? As it turned out, he tricked me.

John Langan [00:15:50]:
We both wound up doing work, but we tried. We had certain stories, certain stories very much in mind, like, say, Clive Barker's Rawhead Rex, which just seemed like such an important part of the kind of monster stories of the eighties. I mean, if we'd had infinite money and space, we probably would have begun with Stephen King's the Mist and then moved ahead from there. But, you know, there were limits to what we could do. Although we talked about the mist a little bit in the intro to the book, and then from there, we just tried to do our best in terms of surveying what had been done in that 30 year period. And there were writers that we were very happy to get in there, whether, you know, Joe Lansdale or Norm Partridge or Jeff Vandermeer and Laird Barron. We also snuck in three original stories. Stephen Graham Jones wrote us a really, like a two page story, which was too good not to include.

John Langan [00:16:54]:
And we had contacted Carrie Laban and Nadia Balkan, both of whose work we knew, and they were still, at that point, kind of in the early phases of their career. Carrie just won the Shirley Jackson award for short stories at this past reader con. And Nadia now has this new collection coming out, or her first collection coming out, which is really brilliant. But we wanted to include in the collection a couple of brand new works. I guess we had the idea that this thing is still happening, this monster thing is still happening. And so we were sort of looking towards the future, which is also what King does at the end of Danse Macabre. He sort of, as things are closing down, he says, well, you know, what's to come? And yeah, we had a terrific time. We had, you know, we got lovely emails from both Clive Barker and David Scow, who's novella really not from around here, we included.

John Langan [00:17:56]:
And they were both like, hey, thanks for, thanks for remembering me, basically, which was sort of astonishing to hear because I thought, you know, who doesn't know Clive Barker? Who doesn't know David Schow? But I, I guess even those guys can feel at times, you know, the, maybe not part of the conversation that's going on. So, so that was, that was a sort of small personal pleasure.

Bob Pastorella [00:18:18]:
Yeah. Schow's book Seeing Red is one of the books that I call the top ten. It's in my top ten books that I've cut my teeth on. Yeah. Not from around here is, is at the end of that. And really and truly that story captures pretty much the essence of what Scout's been doing the whole time. It's just, well, he just, it's unbelievable story.

John Langan [00:18:46]:
Yeah. And he's, he's a ferocious stylist. He has this, he has this brilliant style that is all his own and that, I think, you know, it, I've often wondered, like, like, I would love to sit down with him and ask him, you know, who did you read and where does all this come from? Because a lot of it does seem to me to come out of kind of California noir, people like Raymond Chandler and that there's a kind of a hard edged lyricism and elegance and beauty to his prose that often really jars with possibly Harlan Ellison's in there, too. It really jars with the sort of the horrifying things that he writes about. But yeah, he's really a master of the horror short story. You know, I have not, I always wanted to read his second novel, the shaft, and I have yet to find a copy of it I can afford. I know it's like it's supposed to be coming out in an affordable edition at some point. And when it does, you know, I can't wait because that's something I feel like I've been waiting to read for 2025 years or something like that.

Bob Pastorella [00:19:51]:
I read it 20 years ago, and it's pretty good.

John Langan [00:19:55]:

Bob Pastorella [00:19:56]:
But I would say that, that his, his short stories pack a punch and it's in it. My first experience with him was actually seeing red, and, which is a collection, I believe you can get it on Kindle now. And I remember I was at the bookstore and I seen this, this book called Seeing Red by this guy named David J. Schow. And I'm like, who in the hell? The cover just intrigued me. And it was a collection of short stories. And, you know, I bought it. And this is back when books were like $5, you know, paper, mass market paperbacks, and I bought it.

Bob Pastorella [00:20:32]:
And, and, man, I lost that book in a hurricane, along with a lot of other books. And I want that book back because I miss a pretty impressive.

John Langan [00:20:46]:
If you have to lose a book, that's a good way to, I mean, that's, you can say I lost that book in a hurricane. That's better than, you know, my mom threw it out.

Bob Pastorella [00:20:52]:
Yeah. But his writing style, he has this confidence, authority. It reeks. And if you're a short story writer and you want to find voice, I don't care if you write horror, suspense, thriller. It doesn't matter. You, anybody definitely needs to read this book. It's unbelievable. And they need any.

Bob Pastorella [00:21:19]:
Read your and Paul's anthology, too. Cause it's kick ass.

John Langan [00:21:24]:
Well, thanks. You know, it's interesting that Schow, you know, one of the things that I think is so great about scow and that makes his work hold up over time is that like so many of those, like Clive Barker, like Joe Lansdale, there's that sense of voice in, you know, you recognize a David Schow story, you recognize a Joe Lansdale story, you recognize a Stephen King or a Peter Straub story, and these days you recognize a Nadia Bulkin or a Carrie Laban story. So there were, I think there's something, I think that the stories that we included by and large in creatures, part of what got them in there was that sense of a voice that it wasn't just a question of, "oh, do we have another story about a werewolf in here" or something like that? It was more or as much maybe a question of the writer's voice. And, yeah, the writers in there, I think two of one all are possessed of individual voices. And I think that's something that's really, really important really helps the stories to succeed.

Bob Pastorella [00:22:27]:
I would agree. I think that's probably one of the number one things that editors look for today in picking short stories is that sense of voice, of confidence, of authority, and how well the writer is going to, you know, get that going as quickly as possible. You know, and that's. It's something I definitely strive for in my own fiction.

Bob Pastorella [00:22:55]:
Once that character starts talk to me, I want to write in that voice that they're telling me. But I got a lot what I'm hearing, you know?

John Langan [00:23:01]:
Yeah, absolutely. Although sometimes it is fun, right, to write the characters who aren't so nice. I mean.

Bob Pastorella [00:23:09]:
Oh, yeah, I would agree. That's probably where most of my characters aren't that nice.

John Langan [00:23:19]:
So what does it say about you, Bob, that you like what they're saying to you? Come on.

Bob Pastorella [00:23:23]:
Oh, I mean, I can. I'm always saying, man, I can go from a nice guy to asshole in about 5 seconds or less. But I prefer to be the nice guy and always have a smile on the face.

John Langan [00:23:39]:
Okay. All right. All right. Forewarned is forearmed. I see where this conversation's going.

Michael David Wilson [00:23:47]:
But I think another thing that's particularly great about creatures, I mean, it serves as a great introductory text for anyone who's not that familiar with the genre, particularly as a way of showcasing the breadth of it and how different you can be while still maintaining a sense of horror or of the weird or of the fantastical. I mean, to have stories. To have a story by Joe Lansdale, but then also alongside China Mieville and Kelly Link, I mean, you don't get much different, really.

John Langan [00:24:30]:
Yeah. You know, I definitely grew up with the sort of big tent theory of horror. And again, I go back to King, right? I go back to that reading list that he had at the end of Danse Macabre, 100 recommended books. And there were some dyed-in-the-wool horror titles in there that anybody would recognize. Any horror fan would say, oh, of course, those should be there. But, you know, then he also included other things. He put Thomas Pynchon's V in there. And that really fascinated me, that he stuck that novel in there, a novel that, you know, at that point in my life, I probably would have ignored otherwise.

John Langan [00:25:07]:
But I was like, huh? And, you know, people have said, oh, that's such a reductive way to think about V. But to me, that misses the point. The point is that it expands, including V in your definition of what horror is or, you know, or what you group under that big tent that makes you realize how big the tent is and how much can fit in there. And so it's funny, we wanted to do, we had it in mind to do a sequel or a companion volume. We could never come up with a title, but we wanted to have a book that was going to be a collection of covering the same time period, but, I know what you call non supernatural horror, and we thought about calling it Psychos or something like that, but I think that title had already been used and it just, it wasn't something that wound up happening. But, yeah, I always thought that being able to do that would have further shown people, further demonstrated to people just how broad the field is and how many writers that you might not even necessarily associate with it, nonetheless have done work that fits under that heading. You know, that, to me, has always been the exciting thing about horror. I've always felt that as a field, you can just do anything, and that's a really nice feeling.

John Langan [00:26:26]:
You want to write a vampire story, that's totally fine. You want to write something that's just really bizarre and messed up, and who knows if it's even really happening, you can do that too. What could be better?

Michael David Wilson [00:26:37]:
Yeah. Or if you want to open your forthcoming short story collection with a succubus tale, why not do that as well?

John Langan [00:26:49]:
Oh, this story? This story, yeah. I mean, I've told the story of Sefira, a few times now. But the long and the short of it is that when I was shopping around my first novel, House of Windows, we could not get any traction from anybody. There was one editor, I think it was at Del Rey, maybe, but maybe not. I could be wrong. Anyway, there was one editor who was like, I want to buy it. And he took it to the higher-ups marketing department. I don't know.

John Langan [00:27:20]:
And they were like, no, absolutely not. So it was a frustrating experience. And at one point I had received yet another rejection letter, or my agent told me that I'd received another rejection letter, and I just fired off this angry email right back to her saying, "if it had been an effin vampire hunter novel, they would have taken it right away." And without missing a beat, she wrote back to me and said, "no, no, it would have had to have been a succubus hunter." And I was like, "Haha, that's funny. What a terrible idea."

John Langan [00:27:51]:
But this happens to me a lot these days, that the terrible idea, so to speak, becomes a kind of a challenge. And it's like, oh, how would you do a succubus hunter? How would that work in a way that wasn't just terrible and cheesy and lame? And I had a notebook and I jotted down a couple of lines. And then fortunately for me, I got stuck at the airport. I went down, I think it was Newark anyway, but I went down to the airport to pick up some friends who were coming back from a domestic flight, and there was a big storm that night. And so I was expecting to go down, pick them up and come back up, and instead I wound up sitting in the airport for about 7 hours. And fortunately there was a little restaurant open, I could get cups of coffee. And I just opened the notebook and I just wrote and I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and the story just opened itself up to me.

John Langan [00:28:47]:
And then I had other commitments at that point. I had other stories I was trying to write, probably for one of Ellen Datlow's anthologies. And so I put the story aside, but I always thought, I'm going to get back to that story at some point. And when I was putting together this latest collection, I was looking at the stories I'd written, and I like, if at all possible, to group my stories chronologically. I just think that's other people find that idea abhorrent. But I like the idea of just saying this is where I was at this particular point in my life, and this is what was getting published. And I feel that generates this kind of interesting, I don't know, synergy or something. And so after I'd finished my last collection and I was thinking about the next collection, I looked at the stories I'd written, and I had in mind that I was going to put together like eight or nine stories.

John Langan [00:29:41]:
But when I looked at it, I saw that I had five stories in particular that really hung together. They were all sort of obsessively about the idea of betrayal, and I found that really fascinating. And then I saw that there was a story I had written, like maybe a year after the last one of those that was also kind of tied that up. And I was like, oh, man, well, these things need to go together then. So I do like when I'm writing a collection to include at least one original piece, I don't know, you know, I have this illusion that there's some ultimate fan out there who's buying all of my work, you know, and has seen all of these stories, which I know from past experience is not the case, but nonetheless. So I'd like to include something original. And I suddenly thought about the succubus hunter story, which of course it's a succubus, it's all about betrayal.

John Langan [00:30:28]:
I thought, ah, right, that's where that story needs to go. There was also another story that I had started writing, actually, it was for Ellen Datlo's Inferno anthology. And it's, it's working time was at working title, excuse me, was at home in the house of the devil and I was going to include that. And then I thought, no, no, no, I don't have the time for that. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, nah, you know, that that story needs to go in here too. That these are two original stories need to kind of bookend the collection. So I pushed the publication date back about a year so I could write both of these stories and try to create the book that I thought would be the most effective expression of this.

John Langan [00:31:15]:
I don't know, sort of obsession with betrayal that had shown up in my fiction at one point. So, you know, I'm hoping it'll be out in the fall. The stories are getting closer and closer to done, although it often seems to me the closer I get to the end, the farther away it moves. You know, it's like some kind of escher thing or. But hopefully the succubus hunters, the sefira is almost, it's very, very close to done. I've got a couple of things I have to figure out, but it's, it's teetering on the edge of done. So once that's done, that's really the book pretty much, you know, just about completed.

Michael David Wilson [00:31:55]:
And how long did the stories in this collection typically weigh in at? Because I know you don't really write short, short stories and have previously described your work as long and longer fiction.

John Langan [00:32:11]:
Yeah, most of the stories are around the 10,000 to 12,000 words mark. I'm just sort of running through them in my head and thinking that there is one. I think it's a 6000 word story in here, which at the time I published it was the shortest thing I think I had published. But the majority of them are, I guess you would call it novelette length, definitely in that ten to 12,000, 13,000 word range. I think the original novella, Sefira, I mean, it's, it's somewhere around 25 and it may, it may push itself up to 30 by the time it's done. I'm not, I'm not sure the, the other story at home in the house of the devil will probably, I'm hoping that'll be about five or 6000 words. I really don't want to write two novellas.

Michael David Wilson [00:33:04]:
We're talking about stories spiraling off in, into something bigger than they were initially conceived. I mean, both the fisherman and House of Windows did start a short stories. So I wondered, at what point did you realize that they were November, that they were novels?

John Langan [00:33:28]:
Yeah, I do that a lot. I. Well, you know, when I, in my defense, your honor, I started off when I decided that I was going to come back to writing horror fiction. I spent a lot of my twenties writing other kinds of fiction that was basically horror fiction without the monsters. I guess it was all about anxiety and dread and what have you. And when my wife and I got together, she was finishing her dissertation on Jack Kerouac, on his novel, Doctor Sax. And I would talk to her about this, and she said, you know, Kerouac thought that American popular culture was an entirely suitable vehicle for grand literary expression. And somehow that just, that solved the problem for me.

John Langan [00:34:13]:
I had been neurotic about throughout my twenties. Is this stuff literature? I'd gotten much too hung up on that question. And suddenly it was as if by saying that to me, she just said to me, go ahead, write. And so when I started writing horror, when I came back to horror, you know, one of the things I thought to myself was, I don't want to write what I think of as the trap story. This is something I've discussed a lot, I guess, but it's the story. And there are films like this, too, where the character is basically there not to be a character, but to be a piece of meat that gets killed or savaged in some awful way. And so we get, it's like a Rube Goldberg machine or something like that. You know, the story is this Rube Goldberg machine whose sole purpose is to kill the character in an unpleasant way.

John Langan [00:35:02]:
And that just struck me as, you know, occasionally those can be kind of, can be kind of clever, that they have their sort of, oh, Henry moments, I guess, or Alfred Hitchcock moments, if you prefer. But I really was not. I just, I found that ultimately, those kinds of stories don't really linger with me. The stories that linger with me are the stories where we get to know the protagonist, and what happens to the protagonist matters to us afterwards. Even if you could look at the long story and say, well, that was still kind of a trap story, the fact that the protagonist had been really fleshed out to my way of thinking, turned it into something else. It gave it a kind of a depth and a kind of a resonance that I was really looking for. So when I was writing things, then when I started writing horror stories in a more dedicated kind of way, I said, that's the kind of story I want to write. And it was a deliberate choice to go long in the interest of trying to develop character and trying to come up with compelling characters.

John Langan [00:36:05]:
So at the point I was writing The Fisherman, I also had this weird idea. One idea was weird and one wasn't. So the not weird idea was when I sold my first story, I was completely shocked that I had sold it. I'd sent it to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which was like the best market I could send it to. And the reason I had done that was because my wife made me when she had been a PhD student, the advice or the instructions they had been given for sending out scholarly articles was, you always start at the top and work your way down. You don't start at the bottom and work your way up. Always go in at the top because the chances are you're going to get rejected, but that's not a big deal because you're starting at the top. And so when you get rejected, it won't sting you as much.

John Langan [00:36:55]:
And obviously, if you get in, you just got in at the top. And if you don't get in at the top, you go to number two and three and four. And the chances are that wherever you wind up is still going to be higher, as it were, than that lowest place, the safe place that you were submitting to or intended to submit to in the first place. So I submitted, I get into FNSF and I kind of freaked out, thinking, oh, my God, I want to do this again, but how am I going to do this again? And I thought, ok, relax, here's the deal. See if you can write another story and send another story into fantasy and science fiction before the first one is published. I knew I figured out I would have about a year before that first story appeared. And I thought, I can write another story in a year.

John Langan [00:37:43]:
And so that's what I did. And I started myself on what I thought was going to be this track of write one story a year, because I could manage that and send it into Gordon at FNSF and hopefully he would publish it and that would sort of keep me rolling along. And in the meantime, I was like, well, how am I, what am I going to write about? Because at that point in my life, I would read interviews with people like Neil Gaiman, and he would say, oh, I'll never live long enough to write all the stories I have in mind. And I would think, how do you do that? I have no idea how you do that. I feel like ideas are really hard for me to come by. But I thought two things. I thought, number one, I'll revisit some classic monsters. So my first story had been a mummy story.

John Langan [00:38:31]:
My second story was a skeleton story, etcetera. So I thought I would do that. And I also thought that I would kind of riff off classic English and American literature. So my first two stories had riffed off Henry James. And so when it came to this story, the story that would become The Fisherman, I thought I would riff off Moby Dick. And I should have known, choosing to riff off such a gigantic book, that the riff was going to be huge and crazy itself. But I really thought that I could get the thing done, and I thought it would be a slightly longer novella, but not that big. And adding to all of this, my wife was pregnant with our son, and that lent a certain urgency to my writing.

John Langan [00:39:18]:
Nonetheless, there came a point when I realized, this thing is not, it's not going to be done anytime soon. And I sort of freaked myself out and thought, I'm not ready to write a novel. I wouldn't even let myself say novel. I'm not ready to write something longer. So I put it aside, and I thought, oh, I've got this idea for this other story. And it was going to be about a man who had cursed his son while his son was alive, and then his son had died. And after the son died, the man couldn't be haunted by the ghost of his son. I've been back to Henry James.

John Langan [00:39:53]:
I've been reading a story late, maybe the latest story by James called the Jolly Corner, which is about a man who's being haunted by the ghost of the man he could have been. It's a brilliant story. And so I liked that idea of sort of playing with haunting. So I started to write that story, and then that thing blew up into a novel. And at this point, I just decided, okay, this is just what my mind is telling me, my unconscious or whatever is telling me I have to do. So I just decided, just go for it and get, and push through. And I got the thing. I wrote the thing in about ten months, which was not terrible, and then did an initial round of submissions with my agent.

John Langan [00:40:36]:
And then after that first round, when they had rejected it, I restructured the novel a bit into the final. The final version, which was still rejected until. Until Nightshade Books, actually, I was. I was at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga. I'm trying to think if that was 2007, 2008, something like that. And I had a conversation with. It must have been Jeremy Lassen.

John Langan [00:41:06]:
And I don't know if he knew who I was. I don't remember the exact particulars. But I basically sort of pitched him the novel. You know, he was like, what's your novel about in a sentence? And I was like, I can't tell you what my novel's about in a sentence. And so I kind of gave him a little precise of the novel, and he said, oh, make sure your agent sends it to me. And sure enough, they took it and published it and then believed in it enough to republish it, to reprint it in soft cover. It came out in hardcover. So, yeah.

John Langan [00:41:36]:
What was the question?

Michael David Wilson [00:41:38]:
It was one of those questions where I didn't really ask a specific question. I just told you--

Bob Pastorella [00:41:52]:
It was a comment about writing longer.

Michael David Wilson [00:41:55]:
Well, I feel like both novels had started off as short stories and then materialized into novels.

John Langan [00:42:05]:
Metastasized, you might say.

Michael David Wilson [00:42:07]:
Yeah. So. But I did. I do have a follow up question, and that's. So what kind of planning went into the stories? Because, I mean, it's a tremendous achievement to take a short story to a novel. I mean, was a lot of this organic, so it just naturally developed, or was it that a short plan spiraled off into something much, much longer?

John Langan [00:42:37]:
Spiraled off into madness? Yeah. No, it very much was organic. That tends to be the way that I write is while I'm writing, I have a sense of how the story is going and should go. I often describe it in terms of beats or rhythm that I have a certain sense as I'm going, that, well, you know, I usually know at a certain point where the story is going to end. I usually know maybe a third of the way into a story. Sometimes it has to reach the halfway point. I have an idea where the story is going to wind up, and that will certainly help me as I go along then to figure out, okay, if I want to get from where I've started to where I'm going to what needs to happen in between.

John Langan [00:43:22]:
And keeping in mind, I guess, that I want to, at the end of the story, have written something that is going to linger with the reader and produce some sense of resonance with them. Stay in their minds, be an object of lasting contemplation. And so then as I go along, I don't outline. I do jot down notes sometimes in the margins as I'm going, if there's something where I think I need to make sure I remember this. Once in a while, if what I'm writing is getting particularly long, if we're edging into novella or novel territory, I'll start to jot down things on a piece of paper just to make sure that I keep track of them for later on. And often when I'm writing something, usually something longer, I'll do little doodles. When I was writing House of Windows, I had a little floor plan for the house myself because I just needed to be able to look at that and have a sense of where everything was at a given moment. At the end of The Fisherman, I drew the monster that appears at the end of the fisherman because I was like, how am I going to describe that? I need to sort of see what that looks like first and then try to figure out how to describe it.

John Langan [00:44:41]:
So, yeah, it's funny in a way. I mean, I guess my drawing has not left my, my life entirely, but, but yeah, I tend to have a sense of how long things are going to be and also that they are going to be long. I'm always surprised. I just turned in a short story to Ellen Datlow. I think it was last month, maybe the month before, and it was 6000 words long. And I was completely shocked. But that was just, that was where the story went. Ellen, I don't know, I was afraid I was going to give her a stroke or something.

John Langan [00:45:11]:
You know, she was like, what, 6000 words, as, you know, as it were, it takes you 6000 words to tie your shoes, you know? And here's the thing, I love it when I can write a short story, when I can come up with a short story that I think works as a short, short story, you know, by which I guess I mean like under 6000 words and yet also remains true to my, my concern with, you know, with character, trying to sketch a fully realized character.

Michael David Wilson [00:45:41]:
Yeah. Well, you mentioned that during the writing of House of Windows, your wife was pregnant.

John Langan [00:45:53]:

Michael David Wilson [00:45:54]:
I wonder, following on from that, what impact has having a child had on you as a writer, both in terms of what you're writing about and I, your writing routine and habits?

John Langan [00:46:10]:
Well, you know, I have an older son who's now 27, well, he will be at the end of next month. He didn't live with me when he was growing up. But I've had a lot of contact with him. He and his mother and stepfather lived in. Or they live in Baltimore. He's now a police officer down in Lancaster county in Pennsylvania. Or Lancaster City, I should say, in Pennsylvania.

John Langan [00:46:33]:
And so we used to talk a lot on the phone and we would bounce ideas back and forth. In fact, when I sat down to write my second story, Mister Gaunt, he was the one who said, I think you should write about a skeleton. And I was like, oh, okay. And I took that as not quite to the level of succubus hunter. But I still took that as a kind of a challenge. How do you write about an animate skeleton without it being a sort of a morbidi joke, you know? But obviously I didn't have him in the house with me the way that my younger son has been in the house. And, you know, I mean, my family is the most important thing to me. And I've always felt that for me, and I know other people, you know, other people differ, have different experiences, and I respect that.

John Langan [00:47:21]:
But for me, I really felt that after my son came along and we had our little family unit that, you know, even. Even the bad times were better than they would have been without him. And in a lot of ways I feel for me as a writer, he's given me a fuller appreciation of. I don't know, I want to say human experience or something grandiose like that. But kind of my sort of daily experience is richer because he's in it. And my wife obviously, as well. So I think that they have been, over time, very supportive of me. And I think my son for a long time was like.

John Langan [00:48:09]:
I'm not really sure what he does, you know, but they've been very supportive. And that's really meant a lot. I couldn't do this. I couldn't do this if I didn't have a good relationship with my wife, with my son, with my older son, for that matter. You know, there's that Flaubert phrase about being orderly and bourgeois in your life so that you may be violent in your art. And I really have come to embrace that quite fully. Whenever they go away, it's much harder for me to write whenever they're not here, for whatever reason.

John Langan [00:48:51]:
My wife's from Scotland and sometimes about once a year, she and my son will go back to visit her family. I stay home and watch the dogs and the cats and all that sort of stuff. And for those couple of weeks, it's actually really hard to get work done because I'm distracted by the fact that nobody's here.

Michael David Wilson [00:49:09]:
That's really interesting to hear, because sometimes you'll hear the reverse from other writers, that it's easier to write on those occasions when their family do go away or where they go away to a hotel for a couple of weeks.

John Langan [00:49:24]:
Yeah, I'm very much a creature of habit, I find. I have my little rituals, my morning cups of coffee and all that sort of stuff, and I really need that stuff. Can I write in other places? Yeah. And obviously I do write while they're away, but I always think of those. It's interesting, you know, I've had friends over the years who have said, oh, my family's away, I'm finally going to sit down and write whatever it is I'm going to write. And then they just basically kind of mess around for a couple of weeks and they don't realize that not having their family around has, all those little daily routines that you go through with your family and rituals and what have you, that's giving your life a kind of a structure. And I almost think what they need to do is to figure out how to make writing part of that as opposed to trying to banish all of that and sit down to write.

John Langan [00:50:20]:
I think if writing is part of, part of all of those other rituals, it will feed off them. I get up in the morning and I hear my son moving around or my wife moving around. Oh, it's time to take the dogs out, what have you. All of that, I think, helps me to get into that writing headspace, which I know seems counterintuitive. You would think that you want to go to, was it Cormac McCarthy, I think, lived in a motel room for a while, and you would think that that's what you would want to do, go to the motel room, it's sort of anonymous. It has no personality. And you think to yourself, that's what will help me to write, but not for me.

Bob Pastorella [00:50:58]:
Yeah, I think, hey, think he stayed in a hotel room with his son in El Paso. It was what propelled him to right the road, because he would, you wake up and look out at the street from the hotel and El Paso, is one of those towns that shuts down so no one on the streets, and he'd see that. I remember reading about this, and I think he actually talked about it, too, when I was in his famous only interview in the world with Oprah. But it's like, really? She got this! How? But anyway, no offense to her, but I was like, wow, I can't believe it. And he would talk about how lonely it was, and. I know, and I had already read the road, and I was waiting on the movie to come out. And when he said that, I was like, man, maybe I need to go stay in hotel, but that ain't for me.

John Langan [00:52:03]:
McCarthy has always struck me as a very. He does it his own way. He has his own. His own process and his own way of writing, of thinking about things. And, you know, given what it produces, I can't argue with it.

Bob Pastorella [00:52:19]:

Michael David Wilson [00:52:20]:
Well, could you talk us through some of these rituals and habits you have? So what does a typical working day look like for you?

John Langan [00:52:31]:
Well, you know, when I started out, I became serious about writing when I was in my early twenties. I guess I was 23, 24. It was right around the time, a few months, maybe six months after my father had died. And I woke up one morning and I thought, man, I am not a writer. I'm not writing. I say that I want to be a writer, all this, but I'm not writing. And I went to, I was working in a mall at an eye doctor's office, and I went down to the big box store at the end of the mall, and I bought a clock radio, a cheap little thing.

John Langan [00:53:12]:
But I thought, tomorrow morning, I'm going to get up and I'm going to start writing. So I plugged it in and got myself up the next morning, and I thought, okay, what I'm going to write. There was a story I had tried to write years before. Seems to be a theme in my life. I'd spent one weekend just writing this story. This all poured out and in a rush, and it was about 30, 35 pages long. I was never able to find the story after, after I wrote it.

John Langan [00:53:41]:
But I thought, you know, I remember enough of that story that I can start by rewriting what I wrote, and that will be, it's like a sort of safety net. You know, I don't just have. I can look at the blank page, but I'm just. I'm just retrieving what I wrote before. And what I'm going to do is I'm going to make sure I'm going to write at least a page a day. But if that's my bare minimum, if I can't do any more than a page a day, that's fine. As long as I got that page down, I think I can manage that.

John Langan [00:54:07]:
So I did that. The first morning I got up, I wrote the first page. I was like, okay, I think I'm done. I set it aside and moved on with my day. The next morning I got up, and I made sure that I got up a little earlier than I like to, because for me, the internal editor, the guy who tells me that everything is garbage, he likes to sleep in, and he also likes to go to bed early. So I knew that if I could kind of get up, have a cup of coffee or two while I was writing, he would leave me alone and I could get that first page written. So then, what I decided to do the next day, was when I sat down to write, I rewrote that first page, and I made changes. Obviously, as I went.

John Langan [00:54:48]:
I was like, oh, you know, you used, though, three times in three sentences. You need to edit that. Fix that. Oh, you need a couple more sentences in here. Put those in. And then that carried me through the new page for that day. And then the third day, I rewrote the second page and so on, so that I had two stacks of paper. One stack of paper was the draft of what would become a novel, and the other stack, a much bigger stack, was all the sort of early versions that I had rewritten.

John Langan [00:55:19]:
So it gave me this kind of process where by the time I was done, I had rewritten this thing. In the process, I don't know how many times, every page had been written. In some pages, you would take one page, and in rewriting it, it would turn into two pages, and those would expand out into four or five pages. So the thing was always being developed. It was a terrible book, and it will never see the light of day. But it proved to me that I could do it as a writer, and that process worked for me. So in my later twenties, I wrote a short novel and a bunch of, probably a short novel, a novella, and a whole bunch of

John Langan [00:56:05]:
shorter stories, which were still longish stories. And I continued to use that technique. And really, I pretty much did that until the last few years. It was in the last few years, I guess, that I started to feel comfortable enough with myself as a writer to sit down and just pick up where I had left off the day before. Although sometimes what I would do was still look over what I'd written the day before and make edits on it. But making those edits on it no longer made me feel, oh, my God, this is a disaster. I need to get away from this thing.

John Langan [00:56:43]:
For a few years, I moved to writing at night, and I'm not sure what happened, but there was some kind of shift in my metabolism or something like that. And I found that I couldn't get up, and I just could not get myself out of bed in the morning any earlier than I absolutely had to. But I could stay up late and write then. So I was like, okay, that's fine. And now I'm back to writing in the morning again. Once those things are done, once the fiction's done, and I try to get a page or two done every day, sometimes more when I'm getting to the end of a piece, then sometimes that will, I don't know, the last few pages or maybe even 20 or 30 pages of a longer work can sometimes just fly right by. Because at that point, you've kind of done all the planning and you're just kind of.

John Langan [00:57:34]:
I don't know, you framed the house and you put in the plumbing and all this sort of stuff, and now you're just putting some paint on it and some nice decorations and that. So that can move a lot faster for me. And when I get to the very end, sometimes I will just. Just follow through, just say, I'll write three or four pages because I can feel the end is right there and I need to get to it. The rest of the day, it depends. I'm an adjunct instructor at the local college. So the middle part of the day, during the fall or the spring semester, the middle part of the day, I'm usually in teaching a class.

John Langan [00:58:14]:
I usually teach one class, an introductory creative writing class, and then one or two introductory literature classes. They pretty much let me do what I want to do in those. So it sort of skews towards, I guess, the sort of weird and gothic to the extent that I can do that. And then at night, my younger son and I do karate together. We do a Korean form of karate called tang su do. And so we will go to that. We'll go to karate class at night or in the evening, I guess I should say. And then if I'm up later, sometimes Laird Barron comes over.

John Langan [00:58:52]:
We hang out, we watch a movie or two, or we watch tv. And if not, I'll go online and I'll try to catch up on things like sort of correspondence and sort of like nonfiction writing. So, blog posts, reviews—I've been reviewing for Locus. Locus Magazine for a little while now. So I'll try to get those reviews done then. So, yeah, I guess that's. That's a sort of typical day. Not terribly exciting, I fear.

Michael David Wilson [00:59:22]:
I love that. As part of that, you just casually mention, oh, in the evenings, to wind down, Laird Baron might come over and watch your movie. I bet a lot of people listening are thinking, man, I wish I could join those guys to watch a movie.

John Langan [00:59:39]:
Oh, yeah, it's, you know. Well, you know, Laird, when he. When he moved east, he went through a really bad patch. And my wife, God love her, was like, just tell him to come here. Just tell him to come east and just. He can stay with us and kind of get things together. So, yeah, he stayed with us for two or three years, kind of getting things together. He brought Athena, his, his, his faithful hound, with him.

John Langan [01:00:03]:
And, yeah, we just used to. We always did that. We would just watch whatever was on. We spent far too much time giggling over Archer, I fear.

Michael David Wilson [01:00:16]:
Right, right.

John Langan [01:00:17]:
Sometimes something would just be on the tv. I can remember, I don't know, a few years ago, you know, I was flipping the channels late at night. I just kind of needed a break. And the beginning of alien came on. It was on. It was on one of the channels where they show the film straight through.

John Langan [01:00:37]:
Maybe american was AMC. So anyway, he came in and we just hadn't watched the whole film, you know. And I thought to myself, I know that film is still a scary film because there came certain moments in the film when each of us would just talk to the other like, oh, that's good set design or whatever. And it was really just a way of, you know, trying not to admit, oh, my God, I'm terrified by this thing. But, but, yeah, he comes over. We, we go through. We go through phases. I guess at one point, we were watching a lot of samurai movies speak, you know, Kurosawa, but a whole bunch of sword of doom and all this kind of stuff from various other directors.

John Langan [01:01:18]:
We just. I know we just went through this phase and my younger son would come out and join us and we'd watch these films and to a certain extent, dissect them afterwards, although a lot of it was just. That was so cool. And then, yeah, he comes over and it just depends. A couple of weeks ago, we were talking about movies, and he said, oh, have you ever seen this movie called The Pledge. It's a Sean Penn film with Jack Nicholson. And I said, no, he's like, oh, you have to. You have to get that. You absolutely have to.

John Langan [01:01:50]:
You have to make sure that you get that. We have to watch that. And we did. And last week, I think we watched. It was last week or the week before we watched The Blackcoat's Daughter. And, you know, so, so will. I don't. I don't remember what's up next on our.

John Langan [01:02:06]:
Basically, I just get stuff in from Netflix, and I'm like, hey, you want to watch this? And he says, sure. And we do.

Bob Pastorella [01:02:12]:
Yeah, The Pledge is a good film. I like that film.

John Langan [01:02:15]:
Yeah, yeah. Very, very good.

Bob Pastorella [01:02:17]:
I was gonna say I liked The Blackcoat's Daughter. I thought it was a. I thought it was a little different. It's one of those movies I have co workers that aren't. They like scary movies, but they're not really fans of horror and they don't write, you know, so you have to kind of tell them, hey, you know, you need to kind of pay attention to it, you know?

John Langan [01:02:38]:
Yeah, yeah.

Bob Pastorella [01:02:39]:
And they're like, well, what do you mean? I'm like, well, don't get up in the middle of the movie and go. And you're like, oh, I gotta go pee, you know, or something like that. If you're gonna do it, pause it, you know, because if you. If you leave, you're gonna miss something and you're gonna be, like, thoroughly confused. And sure enough, you know, she was confused.

John Langan [01:02:57]:
And you're like, I told you so. I warned you, right?

Bob Pastorella [01:03:00]:
I'm like, yeah, you looked away, didn't you?

Michael David Wilson [01:03:03]:
What I was gonna say, and I'm gonna jump in now, is The Blackcoat's Daughter is next on my to watch list. I'm actually hoping to watch it either tonight or tomorrow. So I'm only jumping in so you don't go and drop a massive spoiler. Because as with a lot of movies, I try to go in knowing very little about them. All I know is a lot of people have enjoyed it and recommended it, and that is good enough for me.

John Langan [01:03:31]:
Yeah, that was actually how I went into it was. I went into it completely unaware of anything except that it was a horror film of some kind. That's all I'll say.

Michael David Wilson [01:03:48]:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I've said this before, but I do tend to find that trailers and even synopses, like, they'll often. They'll always give away the first act, and then these days, they seem to give away much of the second act as well, which is so frustrating.

John Langan [01:04:09]:
Yeah, absolutely. On the one hand, I was completely entranced with the new trailer for Thor: Ragnarok. I just loved it. But I also thought, you've just shown me the movie. I pretty much know what this is going to be now. And I hope I'm wrong. I hope that there's all kinds of crazy things that I didn't see coming in that would absolutely delight me.

Bob Pastorella [01:04:35]:
Yeah, I think there's a, art to doing trailers nowadays.

John Langan [01:04:39]:
Yeah, yeah, no, I agree, because, like.

Bob Pastorella [01:04:42]:
And I agree with you what you're exactly what you're saying. Because some of the movie trailers, it's like you pretty much, you know, you can't even watch it, you spoiled home movie. Yet you have, HBO doing a teaser for Westworld that shows you what they're working on. And, and there's like, and there's no, I don't think there's really any dialogue in the whole trailer. It's just little snippets. But yet you're still intrigued. You don't know the story. You don't know what's going down.

Bob Pastorella [01:05:12]:
You have an idea, but you don't know the whole thing. And I know that, you know, they're not gonna let us see the whole thing even. I don't even think with a full trailer. I think we're gonna probably get some scenes, some snippets, but some of the other movies, especially superhero movies, is like, hey, yeah, we're gonna show every single plot point in the trailer and everything like that because we gotta kind of dumb it down just a little, you know, so they can buy the tickets. And it bugs me when that happens.

John Langan [01:05:51]:
Yeah. I appreciate not knowing what's coming. I appreciate, you know, give me a little bit. That's absolutely fine. But I'm also more than happy to be surprised in a film and or tv show or mini series or what have you.

Bob Pastorella [01:06:13]:
Yeah, I agree with that 100%.

Michael David Wilson [01:06:16]:
Well, you mentioned teaching creative writing and literature classes at the local college. I wondered, what lessons have you learned from teaching creative writing and how do you think it has helped you to grow as a writer?

John Langan [01:06:36]:
Well, I think there are a few things. Samuel Delaney has a piece of writing somewhere where he talks about how it's not too hard to take a sort of fair to middling writer and make them better. And a lot of that has to do by focusing on matters of grammar and maybe sort of story structure. But he said that to make the leap from there to whatever you want to call it, a great writer, an inspired writer, a genius writer, whatever term of praise you want to attach to the word writer, that's a lot more tricky. And ultimately, it's not really something, or he doubts, and I think he's right, that it can be taught that basically writers can have, if they're willing to work, okay, that's the big if, I suppose. But if they're willing to work and not even too hard, they can show a really steep ascent. They can get a lot better fairly quickly by paying attention, by learning some tricks, if you will, rules, however you want to put them. The problem that I think a lot of young creative writers have is that either they haven't read, every now and again, I'll get a creative writing major, and I'll say, so what do you like to read? And they'll say, you know, I don't really like to read.

John Langan [01:08:11]:
What do I say? You know, that's nice. You know, you're in the wrong place. Yeah. But, you know, in some cases, that the, to be fair, right. The creative writing class I teach, it's for creative writers, but it also fulfills a requirement and one of the college's sort of general learning categories. So there are people who take it in part because they think it's gonna be really easy.

John Langan [01:08:42]:
It's creative writing. There are no wrong answers. And so they'll usually a little surprised, but so that's always, and I will say, right, that I'm still surprised by anybody who wants to be a writer who says, I don't read. It doesn't matter what else. But I watch a lot of movies, but I listen to a lot of music. It doesn't matter. If you're not reading, you're not going to be a writer. It's just there's, I refuse to yield that point.

John Langan [01:09:15]:
But in any event, I think by making certain changes to their style. And I guess where I was going with the reading thing as well, in all fairness to these kids, a lot of what they're reading is not contemporary literature. A lot of what they're reading for their classes is stuff that was published 100 years ago, 150 years ago, something like that. And times have changed a little bit. It's possible for a writer like Peter Straub or Stephen King to say, I'm going to write a story in a very Dickensian manner. And because Peter Straub or Stephen King has a certain kind of capital, if you will, with their readers. Their readers will put up with that. Their readers, oh, let's see what Steve's going to do.

John Langan [01:10:01]:
But for a new writer, writing something in a Dickensian manner may not be the best choice for you to make. So part of what you're educating them in then, is this is how we do things now. And maybe you're trying to get them to read some things that they might not have run across otherwise, some contemporary writers. And to think about the ways that those writers approach, let's say, matters of narrative, narrative structure, subject matter, what have you, and to realize, oh, man, I can do this crazy stuff, too. So all of that seems to me easy enough, if you will, but inspiring students then to go the distance, to make the next step, which is to plunge into whatever it is, really obsesses them. Whatever it is they really love and are passionate about, that's the challenge. And ultimately, I think that's the thing they have to do themselves. They have to motivate themselves to do.

John Langan [01:11:03]:
And there are some students who do. There are some students who are like, I want to write some big epic fantasy thing. I've lived my whole life wanting to do this. That's what I'm going to do. And for them, you try to give them mechanical help. You try to point it, ask them, well, you've read the Lord of the Rings and try to point them in certain directions, and then you kind of let them go. To a certain extent, it's students who are not really willing to make that leap. There's a limited amount you can do for them except to say, if they don't want to be writers, that's cool.

John Langan [01:11:36]:
But if they do want to be writers, but they can't quite get there, you just sort of hold it out to them and say, look, this is what you're going to need to do, and you'll do it when you're ready to do it. There certainly is a perception, not just in creative writing classes, but I mean, all over the place, right, that, you know, I'm gonna be a writer and I'm gonna be rich. I'm gonna be a writer. Yeah. All the writers out there just burst into tears. Yeah, it's. I'm gonna sell. You know, we all tell ourselves, right? Well, you know, someone has to be the next JK Rowling or someone has to be the next George RR Martin or Stephen King or whatever.

John Langan [01:12:16]:
And statistically speaking, yes, they do. That's true. There will be people whose books will break big, but a lot of people, it's not going to happen to that degree for a lot of people. You can be a successful writer in lots of ways and yet still have to work another job to pay the rent or work your day job to pay the rent, as the old jazz musicians used to say. So I think that that's the other thing, is that a lot of them imagine that they're going to come into this, and a lot of them, it's interesting, an increasing number of them want to do screenwriting for that reason, because they imagine, I'm just going to go to the movies and everybody's going to make, I've got the cat, the next Captain America movie, and people are just going to make that and I'm going to be rich. And so, you know, one of the things, I guess, that you're trying to do as well is give them some sort of professional education as well and say, okay, look, this is how it works. This is how you get your stuff published. If you want to write a screenplay, these are the things you need to think about and things you're going to need to do.

John Langan [01:13:18]:
And it's not, you know, Flannery O'Connor is supposed to have been asked, do creative writing programs, university creative writing programs stifle young writers. And she's supposed to have replied, in my opinion, they do not stifle enough of them. And that's not my goal, is not to stifle anybody, but it is to say that there are things that you can learn that will make your life easier. And also there are things that you can learn that will make your life with your parents easier. And I never used to appreciate this until I had kids of my own. You know, when I was a kid, I used to say to my, my mom especially, I want to be a writer. And my mom would say, that's nice. How are you going to make money? I'd be like, thanks, mom.

John Langan [01:14:01]:
But it was actually a reasonable question for her to ask. Maybe she could have phrased it in other ways. Right? So most of my students who are coming into my class and saying, I want to be a writer, they've got parents who were saying the same thing. Their parents are like, that's great. How are you going to make any money? And so one of the things I can do then is talk to them about possible options. Do you want to get a Master of Fine Arts? Do you want to go into some other field and ways to pay the bills and things that you can tell your parents so they know that you're aware of their concerns and that you're not just blowing them off and you're going to wind up living under their roof till you're 40. But it gives them. So I feel it helps them then to, I hope, anyway, to have a better idea of what lies ahead for them.

John Langan [01:14:51]:
The other thing is, in a way, it's very simple. If you're a writer, you write, and if you're a writer, you write on a regular basis. Every now and again, the Internet gets itself tied in a knot about, I can't write every day, or you don't have to write every day. I try to write every day. For me, that's the best practice. If I don't write every day, I get really kind of antsy. And if I go, like a week or two without writing, at a certain point I say, why am I so just out of sorts? And then I think, ah, it's because you're not writing.

John Langan [01:15:25]:
And so I really try to be committed to and working on at least one project and one story or essay or whatever at a time, so that I'm always doing it. I'm always working. I do believe that if you do that, if you write consistently, and if you try to look at your stuff with a critical eye, over time, you will get better. I honestly feel that the more I've written, the more I found I can write. And that's both in terms of technical challenges, I guess. There are more kinds of stories, I think, oh, well, what if you wrote a story this way or that way that I wouldn't necessarily have thought of before? Or if I thought about it, I wouldn't necessarily have believed I could do it. But now I'm like, oh, I think maybe I could do this. In the same way.

John Langan [01:16:26]:
If you write on a regular basis, you start to generate ideas. There's a story or a bit of writing advice, I guess, that I like to pass on to my students. And it comes from Kate Wilhelm, her book storyteller, which small beer press published a few years ago. And it's a kind of a mix of her reflections on her and Damon Knight, starting clarion, and then also just some writing advice. And one of the things she says is she compares the subconscious or the creative consciousness, however you want to call it, to a dog. And if a dog comes to you every day with a toy and you keep saying, get out of here, get lost, the dog will persist for a little while, but at a certain point, the dog kind of gets the hint and the dog is just like, okay, I'm not interested, sorry, I don't need to play with you anymore. And quite often I think writers do the same thing with their unconscious. Their unconscious gives them ideas and they say, that's terrible, that would never work.

John Langan [01:17:36]:
And the unconscious is like, okay, let me go see what else I can find. The unconscious trots away and it comes back hours, days later. What about this idea? No, no, that's insane. We could never do that. After a while, the unconscious gets the message. The unconscious says, okay, I'm not going to bring you anything anymore. And so I think one of the things that you wind up doing, and Wilhelm's point was that you train your mind to start to bring you ideas. That's good, that's good.

John Langan [01:18:02]:
Maybe we won't do that right now, but that's a wild idea. Wouldn't it be cool to do that? So, you're paging through Facebook and you see all kinds of crazy images or whatever, and you're right there. Your unconscious thinks, your mind thinks, that would be a cool story. And rather than saying, no, that's terrible, you say, you're right, it would. That's an awesome idea. Every now and again, I share things on Facebook and I'll write story prompts over it. And in part, that's for me as much as for anybody else. Because if at some point later on, I happen to be scrolling through my own feed, for whatever reason, I can look at that and think, oh, yeah, yeah, do something with that.

John Langan [01:18:41]:
So I think that you, and I think that's how you get to that point I was talking about earlier, the Neil Gaiman point where you're never going to have enough time to write all the stories that you have in mind. I think at this point I pretty much feel that way, that I don't think I'm going to get to the end of all these stories before I shuffle off my mortal coil. And that makes me a little sad, but it also makes me feel good that I have all those stories.

Michael David Wilson [01:19:10]:
Yeah, definitely.

Bob Pastorella [01:19:12]:
It's like you have to maintain a constant receptiveness.

John Langan [01:19:18]:
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

Bob Pastorella [01:19:20]:
And it's, and I totally get what you're saying because I used to feel that way, you know, with, with ideas and things. And I think now I'm falling into that, you know, where I have more ideas than I haven't, that I'll ever have time to do it anyway. I don't feel sad about it. I feel great. I got it. Because, I mean, that means I can pick. Choose what I want to do, you know?

John Langan [01:19:51]:

Bob Pastorella [01:19:51]:
So there's a liberating freedom to it.

John Langan [01:19:55]:
That's a good way to look at it.

Bob Pastorella [01:19:56]:

Michael David Wilson [01:19:57]:
Well, I had a period of time where I was finding it very difficult to come up with ideas, and then there was something that James Altucher said, and it's the idea of taking the pressure off. So instead of saying, come up with ten good ideas, just come up with 20 ideas. They don't even have to be good. Just write down whatever your ideas are, and then you've effectively got 20 story prompts that you can mold into a good idea later. Or perhaps you take idea one, idea four, idea seven, combine them, and then you've got your story. So often it's self-imposed pressure that can be paralyzing.

John Langan [01:20:48]:
Yeah, no, absolutely. You know, one of the things I try to do throughout the semester is to give my students exercises that I hope they'll realize later on are things they can. They can look back on and even fall back on when they say, man, I got to write something. I don't know. Well, just pick up a collection of stories. Open to a page, point to the middle of the page, and that sentence is the first sentence of your story. You may have to try it a couple of times, but look at.

John Langan [01:21:17]:
I do this with John Cheever's stories. I love John Cheever's work, and he has these great beginnings to his stories. And so I'll give my students a beginning line from one of his stories and say, okay, that's the beginning to a story. You take it, you run with it and see where you go. And it's almost arbitrary. It's just, you're saying to the brain, here's a challenge for you.

John Langan [01:21:43]:
Here's a little puzzle for you. See what you can do with that. And then the challenge is, in a way, slightly less personal. It's just, wow, how can I make this thing work for me? As opposed to, oh, my God, I have to write this story? And there's a. As you're saying, there's so much pressure on you to deliver. Instead, this is just a little mental game that you're playing, which, you know, hopefully turns into something more.

Michael David Wilson [01:22:08]:
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for listening to part one of our interview with John Langan. We'll be back next episode with part two, but if you want to catch it ahead of the crowd, then become a supporter on Patreon www.patreon.com thisishorror and for just $1 you will get early bird access to each and every episode at least 24 hours in advance. You'll also have the ability to submit a question to our interviewee, and there are also exclusive q and a episodes. At $3 you get our craft podcast story unboxed, the horror podcast on the craft of writing, and at $4 you get the conversation in its entirety before anyone even gets part one. Before I wrap up, a quick word from our sponsors. First up, perpetual motion machine Publishing.

Bob Pastorella [01:23:20]:
Silent hill meets David lynch and Betty Rocksteadys. Like jagged teeth, the guys following her home are bad enough, but when Jacquelines Papa comes to the rescue, things only get worse. After all, hes been dead for six years. When she ends up back at Papas new apartment, nothing feels right. The food here doesnt taste how food should taste. The doors dont work how doors are supposed to work. And somethings not right. With papa, guilt and sickness spiral Jacqueline into a nightmarish new reality of hallucinations and body horror. Like jagged teeth by Betty Rocksteady is available wherever nightmares are sold, and our.

Michael David Wilson [01:23:52]:
Second sponsor is audible. Head over to www.audibletrial.com thisassara. Choose from over 180,000 titles for your free 30 day trial. The audiobook that I recommend is of course the Fisherman by John Langan, so pick that up or any other title. Www.audibletrial.com This Is Horror. To finish off a quote from George Orwell: "When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, I am going to produce a work of art. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing." And that was from George Orwell. I'll see you in the next episode.

Michael David Wilson [01:24:59]:
Until then, look after yourself, be good to one another, read horror, and have a great, great day.

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