Writing Process Blog Tour

The fabulous Irene McGarrity has nominated me to be part of the Writing Process Blog Tour (an honor which was, in turn, bestowed upon her by the talented William Boyle). As I understand it, the idea of this is as a kind of chain-letter of interviews, with each writer answering the same four questions as s/he sees fit, then tagging another couple of writers to keep the ball rolling.

1) What are you working on?

Tonight, I’m about halfway through a story for an anthology of stories inspired by the Italian giallo tradition of movies. It’s one of about eight or nine I have to complete over the next few months, all of them for various anthology projects. I’m also working on what I hope will be my third novel, whose working title is The Tunnel and which concerns a group of workers trapped in a tunnel with a monster. At some point in the midst of all this, I’ll try to finish a very long interview, and write an afterword to a collection of essays on Poe’s influence on Lovecraft.

2) How is your work different from others’ work in the same genre?

I tend to work within the horror tradition (writ large) in a fairly self-conscious way. While I wouldn’t say I abandon narrative conventions as thoroughly as some of the more radical postmodernists, I’m often found in that part of the pool. In this, I’m guided by the examples of writers such as Peter Straub and Samuel Delany, whose narratives often function both as stories and as commentaries on/critiques of the kinds of stories they are. To be honest, I think of my writing as having more in common with that of such contemporaries as Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron, Michael Cisco, Gemma Files, Richard Gavin, Glen Hirshberg, Sarah Langan, Victor Lavalle, Livia Llewellyn, Ian Rogers, Simon Strantzas, Paul Tremblay—at least in the sense of what I perceive as our shared commitment to bringing the best of our abilities to the darker corners of the human experience.

3) Why do you write what you do?

Because I love it. Because it speaks to me more than any other kind of writing. Because I’m good at it.

4) How does your writing process work?

It’s changed. When I first tried to write seriously, I would rise early in the morning, seat myself at the kitchen table, and not get up from it until I had written at least a page. In order to get myself started each day, I would rewrite the page I had written the day before, revising as I went. It was a lengthier process, but it resulted in a completed story that had already been considerably revised. In the last few years, I’ve become more comfortable with moving ahead on whatever story I’m working on, taking occasional breaks in my writing to look it over and make any changes I think are necessary. Overall, I’ve become more confident in my ability to write a good story (though there are moments…). I’ve also found that now, I write better at night.

So there you have it. For my part, I’m nominating Molly Tanzer and Paul Tremblay to let whoever’s interested in on their writing processes. They’re both what I would call horror writers—though either might dispute the term—with Molly writing these weird, historical pieces that (may) connect to other things she’s written, creating a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts; while Paul combines an eye for dirty-realism with a concern for the breakdown of perception and reality. Fun stuff. I look forward to what each has to say, one week from today.

Debussy’s “La Mer”

As any of my more hip(ster) friends will tell you, my musical tastes, like so many of my other tastes, are eclectic (to put it mildly [and kindly]).  I’ve never considered myself particularly well-acquainted with classical music writ large, but there are a couple of composers whose work I know and enjoy.  Claude Debussy is one.  Here’s a link to a nice performance of “La Mer,” which suggests the ocean to me as do few other pieces of music.




Readercon–The Aftermath

This past weekend, I attended Readercon for the first time in a couple of years.  I had a blast.

I have to admit, I’m tempted to leave things there.  So much happens over the course of a convention that it’s difficult to know how much of it to describe in what amount of detail.  I suppose the principle reason for me to attend an event such as Readercon is to meet readers, and to connect with writing friends old and new.  I had a chance to do the former a number of times, signing more books than I have before and talking to a number of younger writers who told me they had read and even analyzed my stories (this last produced in me the disquieting revelation that I am no longer the new writer I still think of myself as).  As for the latter:  the weekend was an embarrassment of riches, from rooming with my old pal, Paul Tremblay, to hanging out with Paul and the other board members of the Shirley Jackson Awards, to spending time with the charming Glen Hirshberg, whom I’d met before but never had the chance to talk so much with.  And this isn’t even mentioning brief discussions with folks like Michael Rowe, Jeffrey Thomas, Mike Griffin, Justin Steele, Shawn Bagley, and Sean Moreland.

In the midst of all of this informal talking, there were panels, one on ghosts I attended and one on zombies I took part in, both of which sparked so many ideas I had to scribble them down on the nearest available surface.  There were also some spectacular readings:  Gemma Files’s dazzling reading/performance of her story in the new Fearful Symmetries anthology; Michael Cisco walking an intellectual tightrope with ease and grace as he read an excerpt from his novel-in-a-workbook about unlanguage; Glen Hirshberg giving a magisterial reading of a late chapter from his new novel, Good Girls.  There were good meals sprinkled throughout, perhaps none better than the Friday night dinner at the local Thai restaurant that’s become something of a Readercon tradition–at one point, I looked at the long table of eighteen people associated with horror and dark fantasy, and thought, If this were the con, with maybe a couple of additions, I’d be quite pleased.  Sunday morning brought the annual Shirley Jackson Awards, whose winners reacted with joy and grace.

Then it was back home, but even there, Michael Cisco joined me for a drive/conversation that took in Robert Aickman’s stories, Thomas Ligotti’s anti-natalism, Roberto Bolano’s fiction, and the pros and cons of owning a house in the  mid-Hudson Valley.

There were folks who weren’t at the con that I wish had been, especially the Three Musketeers of Toronto, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, and Simon Strantzas.  I also wish I’d found a way to spend more time with Peter Straub, and Livia Llewellyn and Robert Levy.  Overall, though, I can’t complain.

So that’s Readercon 2014.  Did I mention I had a blast?


Starting tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be at this year’s Readercon.  Readercon was one of the first conventions I went to as a newly-published writer, all the way back on 2003, and it has remained among the most consistently rewarding professional gathering I attend.  Here’s my schedule, for anyone who happens to be at the con:


Friday July 11

2:00 PM    EM    Fearful Symmetries Group Reading. Gemma Files, John Langan. Fearful Symmetries is a new all-original anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, published by Chizine Publications.
7:00 PM    E    Autographs. Glen Hirshberg, John Langan.
8:00 PM    F    Creating and Embodying Genres. John Clute (leader), Samuel Delany, Chris Gerwel, John Langan, Yves Meynard. In discussions of literature there is a tendency to identify books that establish a genre as separate from books that embody that genre, as if the former creates the conditions which the latter successfully fulfills. Consider for instance Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire vs. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Guilty Pleasures, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle vs. Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory Series, and Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air vs. K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices. What is the relationship between such books? Is it only historical distance that makes us look at a book one way instead of another? And what about works contemporary to but eclipsed by the genre-creators and/or embodiers—where do they fit in?

Saturday July 12

11:00 AM    ENL    Absent Friends. Michael Cisco, John Langan (leader), Sonya Taaffe, Gordon Van Gelder. In the past year, the field has lost many beloved writers, editors, artists, and fans. Come join us as we celebrate their lives and work.
1:00 PM    CO    The Shiny, Candy-like Zombie: Commoditizing the Undead. Scott Edelman, Max Gladstone, Catt Kingsgrave, John Langan, Sarah Langan (leader). On Twitter, M. John Harrison wrote about the appeal of zombies: “You can hate them without feeling wrong. You can kill them like eating sweets. Then you’re hungry again & you can kill more. They’re fully dehumanised. There’s no off-season, no moral limitation. They’re the *enemy*. What’s not to love? They’re what we really want.” So do we like zombies because they’re the consumer-friendly, ambiguity-free face of implacable evil? Are they, in fact, the most perfectly commoditised monsters?
7:00 PM    CO    Reading: John Langan. John Langan. John Langan reads an excerpt from the novel-in-progress, The Tunnel.

Sunday July 13

11:00 AM    F    The Shirley Jackson Awards. Chesya Burke, F. Brett Cox, Jack Haringa, John Langan, Sarah Langan, Kit Reed, Paul Tremblay. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2013 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
12:00 PM    G    Horror for Diverse Audiences. Gemma Files, Nicholas Kaufmann, John Langan (leader), Shira Lipkin, Jennifer Pelland, Shveta Thakrar. Stereotypes and -isms often come from the id, from a place of deep fear. Horror writers have made use of this for ages, particularly describing monsters and monstrousness in ways that evoke racial anxiety, sexual anxieties, and fears of bodily change. However, that only works if your audience is in the racial majority, sexual majority, and able-bodied. What is the place of horror based on normalized fears for someone who doesn’t or can’t identify with the norm? How can writers effectively write horror for diverse audiences with diverse fears and anxieties? Can horror be a tool for expanding social empathy and social justice?
If you see me, please feel free to come up and introduce yourself.  At my autograph session on Friday, I’ll have a special gift for the first few people who show up, so if you want something signed, please bring it.

Beautiful Stranger

I don’t usually do these kinds of things, but I was tagged for one of those Facebook things where you’re supposed to link to a song starting with a letter the tagger gives you.  I was given b, and when I did a quick google of songs starting with b, I came across Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger.”  I’ve liked a number of Madonna’s songs over the years, but this one has a personal resonance for me.  When my wife, Fiona, and I started seeing one another, she was finishing her dissertation at Penn State and I was living in Gardiner, NY.  I used to drive down to see her on the weekend, taking my little, three-cylinder Geo Metro onto interstates where single and double tractor-trailers roared along beside me.  The car had no air-conditioning, so I kept the windows rolled down and blasted the radio.  That was the summer the second Austin Powers movie, The Spy Who Shagged Me, debuted, and this song was all over the airwaves.  I’d hear it on my the down, when my heart was trip-hammering with anticipation, and I’d hear it on the way back, when I was already counting the days till I returned.  To this day, whenever it comes on the radio, I recall those early days of the relationship that would lead to our marriage, the incredible good fortune that befell me.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid, most of them put out by Marvel.  (This was from the mid-to-late seventies to the early-to-mid eighties.)  The Amazing Spider-Man was my favorite, both the new issues being written by the great Marv Wolfman, and the original issues being reprinted six at a time in paperback collections.  My brother liked The Fantastic Four–also being written at that time by Wolfman–so I read those, too.  Conan the Barbarian was a favorite, as was his superhero cousin, The Mighty Thor–both written by Roy Thomas.  I read a lot of other titles, too, sometimes because they crossed over with one of the Spider-Man comics (there were, as I recall, three regular Spidey series:  Amazing, Spectacular, and Marvel Team-Up, where Spidey paired with a different hero every issue, as well as at least one reprint series) and sometimes because they simply looked cool.  (And this isn’t going into the series I read because they brought to life this or that toy [Rom, Spaceknight or The Micronauts or The Shogun Warriors] or film monster [Godzilla].)

As I grew into my early teens, I started picking up the X-Men, as well–then being written by Chris Claremont, who wrote every issue of the comic I read for years.  I’m sure Claremont’s run on the X-Men has been discussed and dissected in all manner of venues, from academic popular culture studies to online forums.  I remember being struck by the intensity of his stories:  even by the melodramatic standards of comic book plots, his narratives went for broke.  It wasn’t just that things were darkest before the dawn–they were pitch black.  It’s the kind of technique someone like Joss Whedon would deploy in each season of his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.  I was impressed, too, by his portrayal of strong, complex female characters–Storm, Rogue, Kitty–something that was in particularly short supply when I was growing up.  The character of Wolverine as he was being written at that time also struck me:  this was a violent character whose violence had an edge that felt real and even frightening.  I liked, too, the moves Claremont was already making towards transforming Magneto, the X-Men’s greatest enemy, into more of an anti-hero than an out and out villain.

All of which serves as a prelude to this afternoon, when the Honey Badger and I went to the local theater for a matinee of the latest entry in the X-Men film series, Days of Future Past.  I have to admit, I wasn’t anticipating this one as eagerly as I was some of this summer’s other offerings (i.e. Godzilla), but I wound up being pleasantly surprised.  For one thing, talk about a story where there’s a lot at stake:  if Logan (Wolverine) doesn’t succeed in his time-travel mission, then it’s curtains for him and what few of his friends are left alive.  What’s more, there’s a chance for some of the deeper divisions that have occurred among figures like Professor X, Raven/Mystique, and Erik Lensher/Magneto to be, if not healed then at least ameliorated.  And indeed, this is where the movie really worked for me.  There are CG effects a-plenty, especially in the scenes set in the future, but while they’re undoubtedly impressive, I found them far less compelling than the human drama that plays out amongst the younger Xavier, Raven, and Lensher.  A lot of superhero movies appeal to the significance of choice, but this one does a better job than most of actually dramatizing that choice so it means something.  There are a couple of plot hiccups (i.e. the failure by Xavier et. al. to include Quicksilver in their plans for the  final showdown) but they’re forgivable.  If there’s one thing I can say about this X-Men movie, it’s that it makes me excited to see the next X-Men movie, which, this far into the series, is no small feat.