AUTHOR INTERVIEW: John Langan, Author of “What is Lost, What is Given Away”

What were your thoughts when you first encountered the concept behind this anthology?

I’m pretty sure the first time I ran across this idea [for the original meme] was when I saw the mock-up cover design that was circulating on Facebook.  As I recall, I laughed out loud.

With the theme in question, you could have taken your story in any number of different directions.  How did you come up with your particular idea?

I thought about what my typical response to this kind of writing prompt would be, i.e. to write a story in which some element—most likely, a Lovecraftian monster–would cause a character to utter the titular phrase.  I decided I should do something different.  A couple of ideas had been bouncing around my head.  One concerned my ten and twenty year high school reunions, the first of which had been a less positive affair than I had anticipated, the second of which I had skipped.  The second idea concerned a guy I had read about, a teacher who had fathered a child with a student, and who had seen his life disintegrate as he followed that bad decision with several more.  I realized I could bring these ideas together, especially once I remembered the Saturday Night Live skit in which the guys stood around pointing at a spot on the ceiling and asking, “What the hell is that?” in a variety of intonations—and which my high school friends and I had re-enacted in our school.

What challenges if any did it pose having to incorporate a particular phrase into the flow of your story and making it seem perfectly natural?  

Actually, once I remembered our long-ago re-staging of that late-night sketch, it wasn’t much of a problem, at all, since it was a natural part of the events I was drawing on.  The big challenge for this story came with the ending, which came a bit too soon and which the editors very wisely asked me to expand on.  I did, and the end result was a substantially better piece.

What kind of research did you have to do for your story?

I checked a couple of geographic details, but that was pretty much it.

What else are you working on right now?  Anything coming out that you’d like to talk about?

Currently, I’m typing up a story for an anthology of stories inspired by the film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and I’m writing a story for an anthology of stories about dreams.  My second novel, The Fisherman, will be out from Word Horde during the summer of 2016, and my next collection of stories, Sefira and Other Betrayals, will be out from Hippocampus during the fall of 2016.