I last interviewed John Langan in 2017 about his novel The Fisherman. He has since become a high school teacher and Diversion Books reprinted his 2009 novel, House of Windows. Additionally, he has recently released a collection of short stories titled Sefira and Other Betrayals. Wanting to learn more about Sefira and Other Betrayals as a story and how he got it published, I was able to interview Langan for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: I last interviewed you in June 2017. How has life been for you since? Are you battling any curses or monsters?
John Langan: Life has been as busy as ever. From adjuncting at the local SUNY school, I’ve taken a job teaching English at a private high school. It’s meant (slightly) more money for the family budget, but it’s also made significant demands on my time, which has cut into my ability to do other, writing-related things. Probably my reviewing for Locus has taken the biggest hit, in this regard; though I’m also further behind on my next novel than I’d like to be.
Yanes: The Fisherman was recently translated into Russian. When translating your novel into other languages, have publishers come across words and terms in The Fisherman that don’t easily work in other languages?
Langan: Interestingly, no one has (yet).
Yanes: In one of your blog posts you mentioned that one of your sons is now writing comic books. Is there any specific advice you offered him in regards to writing? Additionally, has this inspired you to pursue comic book writing?
Langan: For years, now, my older son (Nicholas) and I have been talking narrative with one another. Sometimes we discuss movies, what we liked about them and what could have been better. Sometimes it’s TV shows or comics. Just the other day, for example, we spent a solid couple of hours revising the most recent Star Wars trilogy (and vastly improving it in the process, if I do say so myself). Occasionally, he’ll have a specific question for me about a challenging scene he’s working on, but he’s pretty good at what he does.
And yes, I’d love to work in comics. They were my first reading love, and things such as Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing were as important to my development as a writer as Stephen King or William Faulkner’s fiction. I continue to visit my local comic book store; though it’s mostly to pick up trade paperback collections of titles I’m interested in. Things such as Locke & Key, The Goon, and Hillbilly are some of my more recent favorites. Writing a comic remains a bucket list goal.
Yanes: Your recent book is Sefira and Other Betrayals. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
Langan: When I was looking over the stories for my third collection, I realized that a number of them dealt with, even obsessed over, the theme of betrayal. I had a pair of unfinished pieces I thought would work well with this group, one of which grew into a short novel as I completed it.
Yanes: Many of your stories involve everyday people just slightly interacting with the otherworldly. When developing a story, how do you make sure a narrative remains as grounded as possible?
Langan: I think it begins with the characters, with trying to portray them in as realistic a way as possible. There’s a great line in Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon in which he describes trying to figure out how things really made him feel, as opposed to how they were supposed to make him feel. I try to keep it in mind when describing how my characters respond both to the events of their daily lives and the more outlandish events I’m going to confront them with.
Yanes: I have a friend named Yicholas Nanes and he has been working on his own collection of interconnected short stories. Business wise, what are some of the difficulties that come from pitching a collection of tales?
Langan: It’s conventional wisdom that collections of stories don’t sell as well as novels. If the stories have been published previously, and if they’ve gotten favorable responses, then it’s a bit easier to convince a press to publish them. In the case of your friend, I’d suggest emphasizing the interconnectedness of the stories, so that what he’s presenting is more a kind of fragmentary novel.
Yanes: I quickly picked up on the echoes of Henry James in Sefira and Other Betrayals. Who are some other horror legends you think influenced you as you wrote this collection?
Langan: James is part of everything I do, as are Stephen King and Peter Straub. In this collection, James features in an especially direct way in the story, “The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons,” which draws on the circumstances of his life; albeit to describe a fictitious writer. He’s also there as a stylistic influence in the story, “The Third Always Beside You.” Straub hovers behind the story, “In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos,” and I think “Renfrew’s Course,” too. King informs “Bor Uros” and “At Home in the House of the Devil.” All three writers are present in Sefira; though I think there’s probably more King and Straub in it than James.
Yanes: Sefira and Other Betrayals introduces readers to an amazing cast of characters. Are there any you’d like to revisit in future stories?
Langan: The thought has crossed my mind that it might be interesting to see what’s next for Lisa, the protagonist of Sefira. Madame Sosostris, from the same story, has already made an appearance in “Natalya, Queen of the Hungry Dogs,” which appeared in Ellen Datlow’s big ghost story anthology, Echoes.
Yanes: When people finish reading Sefira and Other Betrayals, what do you hope they take away from it?
Langan: I hope they’re entertained. I use the word in the sense Michael Chabon has, with attention to its root association with entanglement. I hope the characters and stories in the book become entangled with the reader, so that they linger in the mind long after the last page has been turned.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Langan: My fourth story collection, Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies, will be out from Word Horde sometime in mid-2020. It’s a big book with lots—and lots of different kinds—of stories. Stephen Graham Jones was kind enough to write the introduction for it. Also in 2020, I’ll have a new novella in Ellen Datlow’s anthology of film-inspired stories, Final Cuts. And I’m working on a number of longer pieces.