Preston Lang has written a number of plays, stories, and articles, and has worked as a mathematics instructor, a census taker, a furniture mover, and a lounge pianist. He lives in New York City. The Carrier, out now from 280 Steps, is his debut novel.
Preston Lang: It’s my first published novel. A drug courier meets a woman in a bar, but she’s actually there to hijack the pickup. It was a lot of fun to write
OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
PL: I think the original germ of the idea came from how frustrating it would be to hijack a drug courier who wasn’t carrying anything.
From there came Cyril and Willow—carrier and thief—eventually figuring out a way to work together. And then came the rest of the world: brothers, bosses, innocents, highway grifters, stalks of corn, and bars of gold.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Carrier, start to finish?
PL: About five months. There’ve been a few minor edits since.
OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
PL: Cyril was once a straight arrow, but his brother Duane got him into driving drugs around the country. He never loved it, but he saw it as a job and did solid professional work for almost three years. Then he began to get sloppy at just the wrong time.
Willow is a risk-taker, a recreational narcotics user, possibly a lapsed Mennonite. She’s got a great, untrained voice.
I think they’re good for each other.
OBAAT: In what time and place is The Carrier set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
PL: It’s set in the present and takes place in Iowa, Western Massachusetts, Upstate New York, and on the roads in between. The settings are important. A decent amount of the action is set in motel rooms, diners, and roadside bars. I’ve tried to be true to these places and—more importantly—to the people who inhabit them.
OBAAT: How did The Carrier come to be published?
PL: I sent it to 280 Steps and they were good enough to agree to publish it.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
PL: I like to read a lot of different kinds of books. I’m drawn to good dialogue, which has led me to a lot of the obvious (and amazing) places in crime fiction: Cain, Thompson, Leonard. But I also like a lot of what is sometimes called serious literature: Woolf, Borges, Hemingway. As for writers who are (I hope) not dead, I’ve recently enjoyed Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson and City of Heretics by Heath Lowrance.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
PL: The writers named above are influences, but also movies and music: Double Indemnity, This is Spinal Tap, Dog Day Afternoon, Thelonious Monk, Helen Merrill, Paul Simon, Chucho Valdes. There’s also a lot of bad TV soaked into the base of my spine that influences me a lot.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
PL: I try to outline the story or at least know most of the big events before I start, but it doesn’t always work out that way. It’s easier when it does.
I wear a lot of pants when I write—a lot.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
PL: I prune a bit as I go, but the heavy weeding comes later, so I generally let things go, even when it’s clear that a description or a conversation is going on way too long. When I do the real editing I’m a slasher: if there’s a tiny part of me that thinks it should go, it’s gone.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
PL: Work a job that’s illegal for a while. There’s a lot of drama and raw experience, and there are also many excellent writing programs offered in state prison—especially in New York and Massachusetts.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
PL: I like music and a few special ladies.
OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
PL: If the money earned means that a decent number of people bought the book and liked it, I’ll take that. Plus I’ll also have the money.
OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?
PL: No, I don’t think so.
OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.
PL: Right now I’m going with a small to medium e-publisher; it’s been lovely so far.
OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
PL: Hard liquor. Maybe a splash of water in the whiskey. Is that allowed? My wife recently took up mead.
OBAAT: Baseball or football?
PL: Baseball. My great aunt said that she dated hall of famer Dave Concepcion and that he was a perfect gentleman at all times. I looked it up: Dave Concepcion is not in the hall of fame.
OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
PL: Do you like my accent?
OBAAT: What’s the answer?
PL: It’s very charming. What is that, Scottish?
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
PL: More books. I’ve got two and half done, and a few other ideas set to go. There are insurance scams, depraved carnies, and maybe a period piece about jazz musicians. I’ve also got an idea for a series about an amoral, Canadian private detective in America based in large part on my wife. We will see.