If you were allowed to give one argument as to why the world should read your work, what would that argument be?
You should read my work because the most common praise I’ve received from readers is “That was a lot of fun!” Now, they’re saying this about predominately fantastic fiction, but there’s also horror and SF in the mix; and they’re saying it about stories where people die horribly, kill people horribly, face their demons, or the consequences of their actions, or the revenge of their unborn child, or vengeful spirits, or their own expiration dates, and – if you’re Noah and his kids – even zombie animals on the ark. “Fun!” they say. Good, clean, horrible, vulgar, ugly, bloody, pinkie-chopping, hearse-vanishing, demon-trapping, lava-burning, funny fun fun. Also, I charge very little for the ride. For just the cost of one day at Universal Studios, you can own my entire oeuvre.
What compelled you to become a writer in the first place?
It probably started at the Catskill Public Library with Ray Bradbury’s THE ILLUSTRATED MAN. His imagination, the poetry of his language — I really wanted to tell stories like his. Then I discovered THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and the trinity of Serling, Matheson, and Beaumont (and if you haven’t ever read Charles Beaumont, chase down some of his work like it owes you money) made me want to tell stories like theirs. But to this point, it was, “Yeah, that would be cool” and some very derivative, very juvenile dabbling (I put one of my juvies in the limited edition of my first collection because you should never forget the time you knew nothing and delivered less.) But when I discovered Harlan Ellison (via THE BEAST THAT SHOUTED ‘LOVE’ AT THE HEART OF THE WORLD when I was thirteen), there was a sort of sea change, in that I finally connected with wanting to understand *how* writing worked so I could tell an entertaining or compelling story.
Who are some writers every new/beginning writer should read and why?
Taste in writing and the accompanying payoff is so subjective, it’s a mugs game to thrust a book into someone’s hands and tell them what they’ll get from it, because they may or may not. They may years later. They may never. For example, I can say “You have to read Poe!” because that’s where I started to figure out horrors both man-made and psychological; but I also read Poe forty years ago; where does he stand in a world with Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR in it? Twain’s great for seeing how humor works, but so’s Donald Westlake. There’s absolutely value in the classics, but you simply can’t predict what someone will run with or toss aside. I will say (though people dismiss him because he’s- GASP – ‘popular’) that any beginning writer should read Stephen King’s memoir ON WRITING, which is half biographical cautionary tale and half useful How To. I got more practical instruction from King’s small book on the craft than I did my entire undergraduate writing program, and if you want to write in a clean style people buy with an almost religious fervor, could you really do better than King?
What are some writing tips you would offer new/beginning writers?
First, read. Read everything, read anything. You’ll learn to write the same way you learned how to use your speaking voice: imitation. The best way to figure out your style is to take in a *lot* of other writers’ work, see the tools they have and how they use them. Your first steps will reflect the authors and works you gravitate towards, but as you write more and develop your own way of using the tools, your own voice will emerge.
Second, put in the work. Finish what you start, even if it’s a garbage first draft. Figure out why it’s garbage. Teach yourself to be a hard editor. Learn your weak spots and eliminate them. Kill your darlings – no turn of phrase is so clever it’s above the law. Listen to your characters. Sometimes, they may know better than you why they went left when you said “go right”.
Third, shed your ego. If you take every criticism, every rejection, every suggestion as an attack on what you’ve put on the page, you simply can’t grow. You’re going to get rejections. You’re going to get people who don’t see what you were trying to do with a story. The sooner you understand editors aren’t saying “you suck” when they write “we can’t use your story at this time” the easier it gets to keep swimming towards your destination.
Fourth (and finally), take workshops with a grain of salt, for two reasons: one, everyone in the room has baggage with them; and two, not everyone in the room has achieved number 3 above.
Some books change our lives. Can you share which books have absolutely change the way you look at the world, the way you approach life? How did they affect this change in you?
I had one of those friends who pressed ATLAS SHRUGGED in my hands and told me it would change the way I saw the world. It certainly taught me it was okay to throw her out of my life when I finally did. It also made me wary of people who insist things will be life-changing, because so few things truly are. Though in this case, lives were changed for the better. Of course, the *best* use I’ve found to date for Rand’s Epic Doorstop is to kill roaches, but it’s so inhumane to the roach.
What’s a movie that absolutely has to be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated (and why)?
WEST SIDE STORY. APOCALYPSE NOW. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. And my two favorite Hitchcock films, NORTH BY NORTHWEST and REAR WINDOW. Why? Because they are spectacles within their respective genres/styles that were designed to be seen with an audience in a large, dark room with a huge screen. Most notably, you don’t realize how much humor Hitch injected into NxNW until you enjoy it with people to whom it is new. Also, if you get to see any of the classic TOM & JERRY cartoons on a big screen with a crowd, do it. When Tom gets it, YOU ALL feel it.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I’m relocating to the West Coast in the very near future, so much of life is packing and prepping a house for sale; but I’m actively working on the third novels in a detective series set in a slightly future Houston, TX, for which I’ll be seeking a publisher, with three more being plotted/worked on as I have time; I’m 12,000 words deep in a new SF novella; and I’m finally working through the stack of short stories drafts and starts (about 35 all-in) that have been backing up while I’ve been doing long-form work. They run the gamut from alternate history ghost story to an episodic biography of that legendary hero, the Iron Vanguard. The first three stories are out the door, the next two after that need to be buffed and tweaked, and the one after that – “The Effect of a Monster Under The Bed on the Traveling Salesman Problem” is finally coming together after several years in limbo. God willing and the creek don’t rise, there could also be a second collection of short fiction next year. But let me get moved first.
Doug Lane’s work has appeared online and in print at Abyss & Apex, Pulp Modern, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. His collection SHADY ACRES AND DARKER PLACES is available wherever you buy books. For at least a couple more months, he writes, works, and lives in Houston, TX with his wife and their feline overlord, Buster. He maintains a small but sincere pumpkin patch on Facebook (DougLaneWrites) and a vacation destination at www.douglasjlane.com.