An Interview with John Langan, author of “The Communion of Saints” (GIALLO FANTASTIQUE)

Giallo Fantastique edited by Ross E. Lockhart ships this month, and I asked if we could do some spotlights on some of the authors and their stories. The authors, and editor Ross E. Lockhart kindly complied. If you’ve missed any of the interviews, you can see all of them HERE.

Today, please welcome John Langan to the blog!

Will you tell us a bit about your story in Giallo Fantastique and what inspired you to write it?

My story is called “The Communion of Saints,” and it concerns the efforts of an Albany, NY, police detective to deal with a series of kidnappings in which the kidnapper is (apparently) dressing up as monsters from recent horror movies.

Pretty much the minute Ross Lockhart invited me to submit to Giallo Fantastique, I began researching the giallo genre. I had associated the term with Dario Argento’s over-the-top films (especially Suspiria), but when I looked into the subject, I learned that giallo originally referred to the yellow covers of Italian crime thrillers, and was then transferred to films that adapted these works, and subsequently to films that worked within the crime-thriller genre. (Interestingly, from what I understand, many of the books first published as giallo were translations of British and American fiction, so you had a case of a genre from one culture being adopted by another culture, later to be re-adapted by the culture that first produced it.) I had a secondary character, Detective Calasso, who had shown up in a couple of my earlier stories, “City of the Dog” and “Children of the Fang,” to investigate missing person cases. I thought it might be interesting to bring him to the fore. This meant I needed a crime for him to investigate.

At about the same time, I was thinking about the figures who constitute our current pantheon of monsters, the early twenty-first century’s answer to the old Universal studios monsters: Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolf-Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Who, I wondered, are the figures who scare us now, the vessels into which we pour our fears? After some thought, I came up with a list that consisted of Hannibal Lecter, the xenomorph from the Alien films, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Pennywise (the sinister clown from King’s It). Of course, due to copyright restrictions, there was no way you’d ever see all of these monsters in the same film. But in a story, there might be a way to get around this.

Because, as I’ve said, I associated his work so strongly with giallo, I was also thinking about Dario Argento’s work (though I’ve probably seen more of Mario Bava’s films). In his novel, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, Kim Newman had highlighted the link between the witches in Argento’s “Three Mothers” movies and the places they inhabit, so that each figure is almost a deus loci. This brought me back to my police detective, living in Albany. What would the deus loci of New York state’s capital—a used-up and defeated place if ever there was one–look like? What power would be hers? What would she ask of a supplicant; what might she give in return?

Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

The short answer is, yes, as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to tell stories; although, until my freshman year in high school, I thought I would be doing so as a comic book artist. When I read Stephen King, though, specifically his novel, Christine, that was it. Everything changed, and I knew that writing fiction was what I would be doing. I’ve been publishing my stories since 2001; some of them have been collected in a couple of books, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (Prime 2008) and The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (Hippocampus 2013). I’ve also published a novel, House of Windows (Night Shade 2009). With Paul Tremblay, I co-edited an anthology, Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters (Prime 2011). I’m one of the co-founders of the Shirley Jackson Award, for which I was a juror for its first couple of years. I teach part time, mostly at SUNY New Paltz, where I teach classes in Creative Writing and literature. I keep a sporadic blog at https://johnpaullangan.wordpress.com/

What do you like to see in a good story, and what authors or novels have influenced you the most in your work, and your life?

I want to be compelled by what I’m reading; there’s nothing better than that “I can’t put this down” feeling. Any time a book keeps me up late reading it, I’m happy. There are as many ways to do this as there are writers writing, though I think those strategies tend to fall under style, character, plot, or a combination of all three. The writers who have affected me the most would include Robert E. Howard, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Henry James, and Charles Dickens. Some of the books that have been important to me would be Jane Eyre, My Antonia, Dark Gods, Ironweed, To the Lighthouse, and Sophie’s Choice. These are the writers and books I’m aware of, anyway.

What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing, dark fiction?

From the start, horror fiction has spoken to me directly and compellingly. I think it has to do with the way in which it deals with those moments when the rug is pulled out from underneath you, so to speak, when the universe whose parameters you thought you understood reveals itself to be vastly more strange and frightening. I find that revelation a subject of enduring fascination, as I do the way(s) in which people respond to it.

What’s next for you?

I have a number of stories forthcoming in anthologies including Aickman’s Heirs, Innsmouth Nightmares, and Seize the Night. My next collection, Sefira and Other Betrayals, will be out from Hippocampus Press in early 2016.

Keep up with John: Website | Twitter

About Giallo Fantastique:
An anthology of original strange stories at the intersection of crime, terror, and supernatural fiction. Inspired by and drawing from the highly stylized cinematic thrillers of Argento, Bava, and Fulci; American noir and crime fiction; and the grim fantasies of Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, and Jean Ray, Giallo Fantastique seeks to unnerve readers through virtuoso storytelling and startlingly colorful imagery.
 
What’s your favorite shade of Yellow?

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