A few months ago I reviewed Preston Lang’s “Sunk Costs” and wrote, “Unlike kids soccer teams that give out participation trophies like candy on Halloween, I don’t award five-star reviews that often, but Preston Lang’s Sunk Costs deserves each and every one of those stars.”
David: Is Preston Lang a pseudonym? I ask because finding information on you is difficult. Hell, pictures of you are almost non-existent. Is your limited internet footprint intentional or is it something that just happened?
Preston: Yeah, it’s a pseudonym. Not a huge deal or anything, but I’ve got a few reasons to stay low key.
David: The writing in “Sunk Costs” is spare but not bare bones. You made a comment about the quotes I used in my review edited by Chris Rhatigan, editor and publisher of All Due Respect Books. What are a few of the things you learned about your writing through the editing process with Chris?
Preston: First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to read and review. I just went back and looked at the original of one of the passages you cited in the review, and it was really long and barely comprehensible. Chris and Nigel Bird were both great. They did an excellent job of pointing out logical errors, redundancies, and clunky sentences, and I felt very comfortable that what we were putting out was an actual professional-looking book. This wasn’t a surprise or anything because it was the second time I’ve been through the process with ADR.
Maybe the biggest thing I learned was that it’s important to find the right place for your books. As you say, the writing in Sunk Costs is pretty spare. A lot of editors might have had a problem with that—needs more fleshing out, description, internal monologue—but ADR got that it’s all right for a novel to go light on these elements.
David: “Sunk Costs” is a throw-back to the pulp books of the 40s and 50s, but it never feels dated or false. Set in today’s world, “Sunk Costs” has a drifter come in touch with a criminal conspiracy in a small town. I’m thinking that there are obvious influence of Jim Thompson and James Cain. Not that “Sunk Costs” is solely an homage to those earlier books, but what are some of the influences that drove you to write this book?
Preston: A few people have told me that it feels old-fashioned, which is really cool but not something I completely understand. Characters have cell phones and airports have serious security. A while back, I tried to write something set around 1950, but it wasn’t really coming together.
So Thompson and Cain are influences, though I don’t think I had them in the front of my head writing this. There was probably an element of those old TV shows where someone just wanders around getting into weird adventures. I remember as a little kid watching Starman, where Robert Hays from Airplane was traveling America getting into scrapes. It turned out he was an alien, but it took me a few episodes to figure that out. There was also a similar show in Canada called The Littlest Hobo that’s also pretty good.
I like the freedom of introducing a character into a situation where he’s has no past and very little context and then seeing what he can make out of it.
David: Shotgun Honey recently re-released “The Carrier” and you have some short stories published in Pulp Modern and Switchblade. When you write are you focused on one thing such as a short store or novel or are you able to move between different projects?
Preston: Mostly I work on novels, and I try to keep going until the one I’m writing on is done. But sometimes if I have a decent idea for something shorter, it can be a real relief to get away from the big mess for a few days.
David: Give me five books to read, genre doesn’t matter.
Preston: Just some I got to recently:
Three Kinds of Fools, Matt Phillips
Tussinland, Mike Monson
Two Down, one Across, Ruth Rendell
Hard Knocks, Ruby Lang
American Static, Tom Pitts
The Magic Barrel, Bernard Malamud
That might be six, but books are good.
Thanks for reading this Unlawful Acts interview.