A Conversation with Preston Lang

Please welcome Preston Lang, a freelance writer from New York City – he’s written plays, articles and short stories, moved furniture, taught math and played a piano among others. He’s recently published The Carrier, his debut novel with 280 Steps – check the excerpt at 280 Steps, the crime fiction publisher of books with very neatly designed covers, reminiscent of those brilliant Saul Bass’s graphic film titles. You can find Preston at prestonlangbooks.com, or follow him on Twitter (@LangReads) – and, of course, keep an eye on the dude for more of his works!

The Carrier

The Carrier

Hi, Preston, can you, please, introduce yourself to our readers?

When I was nine we had a carnival at school, and they had a booth where you had to try to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. Winner got the jar and all the jelly beans. I took it very seriously and did what I thought was some pretty advanced geometric analysis. My guess was 984, and there were 977 jelly beans in that jar. No one else came within 50 beans of the right answer, but I lost because my guess was higher than 977. It didn’t say anything about going over anywhere when I made my guess, but I was told that this was “well understood and widely accepted.”
They offered me any five jellybeans of my choosing as a consolation. I picked 5 atomic reds and popped them in my mouth, but they hauled me away from the booth before I could spit them into the jar.

You’ve written for theater – what about film and TV?
I’ve done some screenplay work, nothing for TV yet. But I like TV, although I have a hard time turning my television on. It takes a few tries—maybe we need new batteries for the remote.

You’ve written short stories and now a novel – which gives you more pleasure to write?
I think novels are my favorite. There’s freedom to do anything and enough room to develop characters and situations. I was once told that a short story must be “An authentic gem of lapidary brilliance.” That’s a little too much pressure for me.

What can you tell us about The Carrier (not the plot, we’d like our readers to buy the book) – the circumstances of working on it, what made you write it, where did you get the idea and how you started, how did you find the publisher, etc …?
I decided that I needed to start writing novels, because it’s something you can do in the home, without too much reliance on others. The story of The Carrier itself came from the frustration of thinking that something is going to be easy and then finding that it really isn’t. Willow just wants to hijack a drug courier. She does everything right: follows him, gets him alone, but then he doesn’t seem to be carrying anything. That kind of cosmic injustice felt like a good place to start.

Do you write directly from your head or is there any serious research or planning involved in the process?
Some of what I write comes from experience—I suppose that much comes right of my head onto the page. A lot comes from research: I read a lot; I listen a lot; and I have also found the google search engine useful and have recommended it to several friends.

You’ve had many interesting professions which can give a writer an excellent view upon life and experience to draw from – what is your work day like now?
I still do unexpected things for money, so my work day varies quite a bit. Last week I tried to sell one of my old raincoats. A man met me in Soho, inspected the coat, then walked off offended. Later that night, I had to teach a graduate of an ivy league college how to subtract fractions. So—no average workday.

Do you have any special routine or ritual during the process of writing that you’d like to share with us?
Sometimes I have to write on the subway or in a waiting room, so there’s no set routine I can get into. I always do a lot of muttering though, which is very useful.

Is Social Media important for your work, promoting it, networking with readers and fellow writers?
I’m still getting the hang of that. It’s hard for me to think of interesting things to tell a general audience in limited character space.
I broke a shoelace this morning. Is that interesting? Do you want to hear about that? I had an idea for a detective series called Magnum PEI: a private detective on Prince Edward Island. I know that’s not a good idea, but should I be tweeting it? It’s hard to say.

A printed or an eBook? Does it make a difference to you?
A few thousand years ago you had to memorize the whole story and then recite it on demand. I don’t think I want to go back to that. But these days (2014) both paper and digital books are still valuable. A lot of people asked me if they can get a physical copy of The Carrier. Some people still prefer that, but it definitely looks like ebooks are the future; I’m fine with that.

What are you working on at the moment?
A few different things. A lot of lying and deception and only a little violence. I’ve got an idea for a series about an amoral Canadian investigator in the US. She’s a former star ringette player who has no problem working for criminals.

Who are your literary heroes?
James Cain, Virginia Woolf, Elmore Leonard, Mindy Hung, Lee Sheridan Cox, lots of others.

What is (in your opinion) the writer’s mission?
I’m just trying to write entertaining stories. I don’t think I can hope to do much else at this point. If I figure out a way save lives through crime fiction, I will get on that immediately.

What advice would you give to a young (or not so young) writer, who’s just starting to write?
Never go anywhere without a book in your pocket.

Thank you, Preston!
Thanks so much for having me.

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