Sarah Langan is the award-winning author of three acclaimed novels, a number of short stories and, most recently, the audio play “Is This Seat Taken?” She’s currently finishing up her fourth novel and first screenplay among several other projects, but took a few minutes from her busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Audrey’s Door, her most recent novel, is considered a classic here in October Country, so it’s a real thrill to have her with us today.
OC: Horror is a genre that has long been dominated by the male voice – have you encountered any particular barriers as a woman writing horror, or is it your experience that gender doesn’t matter as long as the talent is there?
SL: Gender is irrelevant. The people to whom it matters are not typically successful.
Who are some of the female genre writers that have been mentors/heroes of yours?
I like Liz Hand both personally and professionally. The same with Tess Gerritsen. They’re generous and warm people who work hard and write smart. Kelly Link’s first collection, Stranger Things Happen, changed the way I write fiction.
Who do you feel were the women that have been instrumental in making this genre more accessible to female writers?
It wasn’t accessible? I think women who don’t like the horror label, or consider it lowbrow, aren’t going to read fiction in that genre. It makes no difference whether its brilliant or crap, and no one is going to convince them otherwise.
Horror right now is popular because as a nation, we’re dragging our own corpse behind us like dead weight. For instance, Billy Crystal hosting the Academy Awards? Seriously? We’re at war, we’re in debt, we’ve given up on the environment, and nobody’s employed. And for some stupid reason, we’ve divided ourselves into democrats and republicans, while the crooks have a ball, stealing everything they can carry.
Tell us a little bit about your approach to writing. Do you do a lot of rewrites? Do you outline?
I rewrite about fifty times, which is crazy. By the time I’m done I can recite my novels from memory. You might not like what I’ve written, but it was almost never an accident.
No outlines – I let the story take me where it wants to go. This is not an approach that makes sense, but it works for me.
Do you have a preference between writing short stories and writing novels? If so, why?
I love them both. But I really, really love novels. Why fall in love twenty times a year? It’s so hard on the heart.
When you get an idea, do you know right away “This is a novel” or “this is a short story,” or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?
Short stories tend to have a narrow scope. I write them in a week or less. Novels, well, they’re the known universe. It’s never hard to tell the difference.
You recently wrote a radio play, “Is This Seat Taken?” for a project called “Tales from Beyond the Pale.” Had you worked in that format before? How different was it from writing prose?
It’s all fiction, so in that way, I knew what I was doing. On the other hand, it was totally new. I’d never done script work before. I handed it in as a Word document, which got a laugh from Larry, the producer. It’s a lot like writing a short story, only plot is the most important aspect of the work – not character. I loved the experience, and because of it, wrote my first screenplay, which is about finished.
Your last novel, Audrey’s Door, was highly regarded as a breath of fresh air in the “haunted house” subgenre. Are there any other horror staples you’d like to take on?
I love all those sub-genres – zombies, werewolves, witches, vampires, aliens. They’re tons of fun and I’d take them all on. Ghosts, however, are my favorite. They have less rules, and readers don’t know what to expect – they’re thrown off balance.
What projects do you have coming in the near future?
By September, I’ll have finished my novel Empty Houses, my screenplay Glen Cove, and a collection of short stories. I’ve also got a YA novel I’d like to finish, but that’s down the road.