Interview with Jon Lang

What is your writing process?
I have a book in storage right now, that I got about 33k words through. It was a free-form exploration of death, and ironically, the book is pretty dead right now. I've learned that in order for me to write a book from cover to cover, it has to be completely plotted out in an excel sheet, with all the kinks worked out, before I put words to the page.

That being said, I have these key scenes that come to me for each book, and I can't resist writing them down and seeing them unfold. But each one is addressed in one cell of the excel sheet. The characters, the setting, what happens...these items all have to be clear in order for me to complete the chapter without pulling my hair out.

I have every intention of finishing that 33k book above. In fact, it's saved as book one on my computer, and Ashra is actually book two. But much more planning will be necessary.

Other authors have different writing processes of course. Stephen King does a fantastic job with creating characters and seeing how they interact and thrive in the setting he puts them in. But I just need my plots pre-written or else it spirals out of control.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1. Hojoki (Kamo no Chome). This Classical Japanese text has shaped much of how I view the world, and its sparse yet beautiful prose, especially in the original, captures a way of looking of Buddhism that doesn't really exist today.

2. Halo: The Fall of Reach (Eric Nylund). This is military sci-fi that's entertaining and riveting, though the story is relatively simple. Even though the book may have lost some its power as I've aged, it's still a great coming-of-age story in a warring future.

3. The Art of Dramatic Writing (Lajos Egri). This is my go-to resource for writing. Though it's geared more towards playwrights, the information distilled within the book is useful to anyone looking to write. His treatment of the premise as the foundation on which the rest of the story rests resonates with how I like to write. His scathing interviews are also brilliant.

4. Holidays on Ice (David Sedaris). Or really anything by David Sedaris really. His memoirs tend to blur from one to the other, with the exception of Naked, which hit hard, and showed a deeper side to Mr. Sedaris that I had always imagined was there. But his self-deprecating humor combined with his astute and quirky views on events are perfectly encapsulated and brought to life through his writing.

5. A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin). I love reading Le Guin's books, because within the first paragraph my reading speed has slowed down. I normally blow through books relatively quickly, but her words are dense, and each one is important. Her stories are simple yet profound. I can't imagine a story completely told in dark caves (The Tombs of Atuan) keeping my attention for the span of the book, but her writing makes it so.

There are many more books that I love, but these are the ones that came first, so I guess they take up the prime real estate in my brain? The Romance of the Three Kingdoms comes to mind, as does Eighty-Sixed, along with the Tale of Genji.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I love the Kindle from Amazon. These things, unlike our other e-devices, were designed for reading. I've been considering getting a Paperwhite, but I heard they may be announcing a new one soon, so waiting sounded like the better option.

I haven't tried the Nook, so I'm not fully qualified to answer this question, but I can't imagine life without my Kindle. It's reduced my luggage weight by at least 100 pounds every time I move.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in Chicago, and from 0-4 I was raised inside the city. After a shooting occurred across the street and the store below us was robbed at gunpoint, my parents moved us to the suburbs, about an hour and a half out. I'm not quite sure which is worse.

How did this influence my writing? Well, Cybele is based partly off where I grew up. Just endless wheat fields; cascading waves when there was a breeze, punctuated by a lone grain silo that acted like a lighthouse for that yellow ocean. It may sound romantic, but I didn't like it at all. Alan made an effort to leave as soon as he could, and I suppose I did too. I've always loved culture, skyscrapers, people and cuisines from all over the world. The people back home are nice, some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, but living there isn't for me.
What's the story behind your latest book?
It's my Daddy Issues In Space. I tried to explore the father-child role in multiple cultures, informed in large part by my experience with my own father. What is the role of a father? What is the role of a child? To what degree is the child an extension of the parent, and to what degree does the child have autonomy? These were questions I wanted to answer, so I wrote this romp through the galaxy.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
For me, writing is therapeutic. It's for all the issues I could never understand by speaking with a friend, psychiatrist, or even myself. As a result, I build a house, a world, a galaxy for people to inhabit. I pose my question to the characters I create, and they answer it based on their own experiences. I just record their responses.

I have come to understand myself better than I ever have through writing. I'll be glad if my journey helps someone else.
What are you working on next?
The sequel to Ashra! I'm very excited about it. The plotting is coming along well, but I still need to smooth out some holes. I can't give away the details, but Alan's ex comes back!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
To be honest, sometimes nothing. I love sleeping and I love my bed. When I wake up, I may grab a book, video game, or movie and just continue relaxing. However, hunger is a very strong inspiration.

Sad to say, I have a hard time finding a positive, motivating reason for getting out of bed. Most of the time it's work. Other times it's because I have an event planned. Or I feel fat and need to go to the gym. Once I'm up and running I keep at it and get everything done. Maybe that's why I value my time in the bed so much.

Hmm, this was relatively sad to read. I ought to find something that motivates me to get my butt up each day. Problem is, I can type from my laptop while under the blankets.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
It seems like most of my time is taken up by writing in one form or another. Whether it's writing emails for work, texting someone, commenting on a post, tweeting...I'd say a large portion of my life is taken up by the written word.

As for other than writing novels, I find solace in working out. I like the feel of weights in the gym, of sweating and moving. I enjoy running and swimming. And then there's piano, the great saving grace of my sanity. I dedicate much of my piano time to Mozart and Beethoven. For inspiration and research for my books, I like to meet new people and hear about their experiences. I like to go to new places and try new things.

And of course, I read a lot. I'm always working on a book.
Describe your desk
The desk that I wrote Ashra on, and the one I'm typing from now, is nothing more than a slab of IKEA plywood elevated by a bookshelf on one end and an entertainment cabinet on the other. It's not really a desk...more of a thin surface on which to rest things.

There's a lamp and a pair of speakers. Beside it is my collection of books, movies, and games. I'd love a better chair and a proper desk with proper drawers for holding things, but I make do with what I have.
Published 2014-09-01.
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