Preston Lang is author of The Sin Tax and Sunk Costs, published by All Due Respect Books. He’s also written The Blind Rooster, from Crime Wave Press, and The Carrier, which will be released by Shotgun Honey. I talked with him recently about the role con artists play in his work.
Chris Rhatigan: Most of your work deals with con artists in one way or another. I always find it interesting how you’re characters are dreaming up schemes and playing them out in their heads or acting on them. What draws you to writing about these characters?
Preston Lang: Kicking and shooting is pretty cool, but I like con games and criminal deception more. As a reader, it’s fun to be in on it, feeling like you’re one step ahead of the poor saps getting conned. As a writer, it’s fun to put obstacles in front of your crooks and then figure out how they can lie their way around them. I’ve read a lot about cons and seen a few up close, and I’m always amazed at what can work, and how invested people get in convincing themselves that they haven’t been conned.
CR: Who are your favorite authors writing about con artists?
PL: Probably two of the first grown up crime fiction books I read were The Grifters and Double Indemnity. I still think about both of them a lot. More recently, I read and really liked The Smack by Richard Lange. Also—and I’m not just saying this—I really liked Squeeze by Chris Rhatigan, which I’d definitely put in this category.
CR: In The Sin Tax, the protagonist, Mark, is a Slovenian immigrant who’s lived in the US most of his life. While it’s not exactly specified in Sunk Costs, it’s implied that Dan is a first or second-generation Chinese immigrant. What role does the immigrant experience play in your work?
PL: Hadn’t really thought much about this, but it’s hard to write about America without including immigrants. I’ve always lived with people from all over the world. My family is full of immigrants. If I’m drawing on where I went to school, where I work, where I live, it’s not all going to be native-born Americans.
CR: Sunk Costs mostly takes place in banal settings–the banks, suburbs, malls, and office parks of the Midwest. Why choose these doldrum places?
PL: I knew I wanted to start it out on the highway in a not particularly scenic part of the country, then move on to office parks, cheap apartment blocks, and Walmart. It felt like the right place to put this particular story. In an earlier draft I think I fleshed out the town a little bit more, but when I went back through it, that seemed unnecessary.
CR: David Nemeth made specific mention of your style in his review of Sunk Costs. And that was one aspect that really drew me to this book–each sentence seems effortless and flows into the next. What would you say are the main influences on your style? What kind of writing rules do you consider important?
PL: Probably the biggest influence on my style is understanding my limitations. As a reader, I like a lot of different kinds writing. If I thought I could get away with long, vivid descriptions or complex internal monologues, I probably would. But I can’t, so I need to keep things a lot more lean. Fortunately there’s a great tradition of that kind of thing in crime fiction. Cain and Thompson would be obvious examples. There are also non-crime writers along these lines who I read and admired at a relatively young age. Hemmingway and Anne Beattie are the first two I can think of.