Interview Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
An Interview with Douglas Lain
conducted by Trent Walters

© Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain is a fiction writer, blogger, copywriter, and most recently a "pop philosopher" for the popular blog Thought Catalog. His work has regularly appeared in nationally distributed literary magazines and journals such as Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and Amazing Stories since 1999, and his first book Last Week's Apocalypse was a collection of these stories published by Night Shade Books. His surreal nonfiction book Pick Your Battle was published in July of 2011 with Kickstarter funding. His first novel, entitled Billy Moon: 1968, is due out from Tor Books in 2013.

Douglas Lain Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fall into Time
SF Site Review: Wave of Mutilation

Fall into Time
Wave of Mutilation
How did you get started in writing?
I decided I wanted to be a writer during my senior year of high school back in 1988 and sold my first short story to a magazine called The Fiction Primer during my Freshman year of college in 1990. At the time this gap between my decision to be a writer and the publication of my first short story seemed like an eternity.

I think I turned to writing because I'd failed as an actor. When I didn't get a lead part in the high school play, Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," I opted to try writing instead. I figured if I couldn't speak the lines in front of an audience then I'd write the lines. Of course, I've only written for the stage once, and that was for a college course many, many years ago.

So do you see a connection now between acting and writing?
Other than the narcissistic need for attention that motivates both activities not so much. Although I haven't thought about acting for a long time.

How has the focus or goal of your writing changed over the years -- as you see it?
My goal as I set out was to be a writer and that was all. It was only through the pursuit of this practice that any other goal formulated itself, and that goal is constantly morphing. Lately I've actually been more interested in developing a consistent aesthetic or artistic stance beyond a vague surrealism.

To what extent is your fiction impacted by your own life events? Do you find sympathy in Rudy Rucker's "Transrealism" or, as Jon Armstrong points out in his podcast interview with you, the Woody Allen protagonists? How do you develop characters?
I'm sympathetic to "transrealism" but feel a stronger affinity towards "surrealism." And, for me, that means the most "realistic" elements in my stories are often the strangest elements. That is, I tend to dream up strange stuff in my stories in an effort to understand the world. And this is perhaps how my characters are all autobiographical. They all tend to be people who distrust surface appearances and who are struggling to understand what is going on.

As to Woody Allen-style protagonists, I guess this struggle to understand what is going on can lead my characters into obsessions, phobias, and sometimes hysterics. But, according to some psychoanalysts I've been reading, all of this is perfectly normal... for whatever that is worth.

Seriously, the biggest trick to developing a fictional character is to figure out what they want, and if you want really deep characters, you can add on what it is that they want to want but really don't want.

A few years ago you started the podcast, Dietsoap, which interviews various political commentators. To what extent do these interviews affect your writing? Had you consciously planned to use this platform to develop the direction of your writing?
The podcast is an interview show with philosophers, mystics, Marxists, artists, activists, and so on. It is definitely a leftist podcast and was largely inspired by the financial collapse of 2008.

Here's how I started it. I'd just sold my first novel to Tor and I was waiting to get notes back when half of New York publishing was let go. I was commuting to a phone room in Beaverton, working for Comcast, and spending a lot of time listening to podcasts like the C-Realm and the Kunstlercast, podcasts about peak oil and the coming collapse of civilization, and my first novel was due out from a major house, but it seemed to be delayed. From 2006 to late 2009 I'd spent some time writing two novels and I felt a little spent, so instead of jumping back in writing short fiction (something I promised myself and my agent I'd do) I started podcasting instead.

The idea was that I'd do this little podcast and reach out to new readers with it while also exploring the ideas that were obsessing me.

Did this endeavor change the direction of my writing? Probably not. But it has probably sped up the process I was already going in I think. That is, I've been talking to a lot of academics and philosophers about strange stuff like Lacan and so on, and that's freed me up to be a bit more heady or contradictory in my writing.

Considering the title of the novel, Wave of Mutilation, what about 80s alternative music: how has that shaped you as a writer?
I like the Pixies, but my editor at Fantastic Planet Press (a Bizarro imprint) Cameron C. Pierce recommended the title Wave of Mutilation. My next novella for Fantastic Planet will be entitled The Doom of the LOL Cats, again at Cameron's suggestion.

So do you normally allow people to title your works? How do you feel about that?
I don't normally get the opportunity to have other people offer up titles for my work, however Cameron C. Pierce is a very creative guy and also have some marketing sense that I lack. I wanted to title for the book that he titled Wave of Mutilation to be called "The Funeral of Campaign 2000." I think Wave of Mutilation is arguably better.

All in all I'm actually pretty flexible about my writing. I like to consider myself to be a professional, so I'm pretty unattached to what I do. Also part of my approach to writing is to put down a draft and then shred it and add to it until it's pretty unrecognizable. I'll make major changes to a work at the last minute. For instance, the main character originally faced off against a dead uncle instead of a dead father. It was only in a revision that I realized how weak that dynamic was and rewrote the story to feature the Freudian conflict.

Many of your stories try to tackle current events. Is the news where you ferment story ideas?
I would say that current events ferment through me and that when I reach for a story idea I find George Bush is waiting for me, him and a truckload of disillusioned Obama fans are always standing around inside my brain. They're waiting for me up there, all the time.

Even in a genre where abnormal is the norm, your stories fall outside toward the outliers. Do you do so on purpose -- anti-commercial antagonism -- or is it an instinct? Have you ever desired to shed this?
I'm not sure how to answer this question. The craven marketer in me is torn on how to respond. Should I say that I write oddly on purpose in order to assure the possible reader that I'm not a threatening mad man? Or do I want to cultivate the appearance of genius and claim my eccentricities as intrinsic to my basic make-up? I'm not sure.

What I really want to do is make everybody odd like I am so I can be the next Stephen King. (Are his stories normal?)

In another interview, you mentioned your daughter flagged in her interest in reading. What is your prescription for getting young people to read?
My daughter has been reading a lot more lately, but I'm having a hell of a time getting her to read the Zizek books I've assigned for her. As to getting young people to read I think we're barking up the wrong side of the tree. How do we create a culture where reading and thinking, especially that second thing, are normal? How do we get adults to read again? Maybe we should stop gearing all of our books at kids and start shaming adults who read children's novels for their own pleasure. Maybe we all need to grow up, because what difference does it make if kids read or not if they never mature?

Should there be a movement to get more adults (or children) to read or is the status quo okay? Any theories?
I think that we need a movement to save the physical book and a expansion of libraries. Actually so much needs to change that this is a minor thing, but I'm pretty sure that a certain kind of literacy will be lost if the book disappears and is replaced by the ebook. Just as MP3s eliminated a depth of sound from music, I think the ebook will eliminate a dimension of the reading experience.

You have a penchant for injecting pop culture into narratives. What intrigues you about present and near-present popular culture?
First of all, let's be honest. The pop culture I insert into my fiction is usually pretty dated, and that's because I'm 40 years old now and so completely out of touch. I do it because I think with pop culture. I live in a sea of pop culture. A good part of my approach to writing is to try to take these pop cultural relics and arrange them into some sort of meaningful thing.

Why meta-fiction?
I think the idea is to demystify the text, it's sort of a Brechtian move to make the reader aware of the experience of reading, to remain on guard against mystifications, however I'm not entirely sure this is how meta-fiction works anymore. So when you ask me why meta-fiction I have to admit that perhaps it's a mistaken choice, or one that isn't fully thought out.

The other reason for meta-fiction is that my favorite writer when I was young was Kurt Vonnegut.

What draws you to first-person narrators?
Again I think it's a combination of things. The first person narrator is popular in literary circles, or was, because by using the first person your text could refuse authority and claim authenticity at the same time. That is, your story wasn't something just floating there, but it belonged to somebody particular, and therefore it wasn't objective and real, but just subjective. Just somebody's ideas about the world.

But the other reason I'm attracted to the first person narration is because the books I most enjoy are often written in the first person or play with POV. Valis, for instance, starts out in the third person but shifts in a remarkable way, through a confession, to the first person point of view.

I like that phrase "play with" in regards to your work. Is that a kind modus operandi for your approach to fiction? Do you find that it turns off certain readers? If so, do you care? Or is your work able to circumnavigate people's preferences for a no-frills, linear narrative? I am reminded of Jonathan Lethem's comment of non-commercial viability of your work. Any thoughts on how to get more readers interested in play?
I don't tend to worry about what "certain readers" like or don't like because I think my task is to write in my own way, but to do it so well that I'll win these readers over. So, yeah, I aim at circumnavigating people's preferences for certain kinds of linear narratives, but at the same time I hope to provide other bits that compensate for that lack. In all, I think I have a fairly light touch.

What can you tell us about the novel coming out from Tor in 2012?
My novel is now due out from Tor in 2013 not 2012. It is, officially, due out after the end of History. Now, as a follower of Terence McKenna I happen to know that what we sense as historical progress, a series of causes and effects, is actually time running backwards. That is, there is an Eschaton at the end of history that has thrown history out from itself, and the process of history is getting back to this Eschaton. That is, the future causes the past. So, in this way my upcoming book about the events of May 1968, a book that places Christopher Robin Milne (the Christopher with the famous bear) in the middle of a General Strike in Paris is actually the book that has caused, or will cause, the Occupy Wall Street movement. And of course, the Occupy Wall Street movement has caused May 1968. And so on...

Interesting you mention Occupy Wall-Street in connection with your own work as it has been of much interest to you lately. Do you think it somehow lessens the impact of a story like "Chomsky and the Time-Box," or does it anticipate it, or is the story accentuated as the actions aren't what such a protagonist would advocate, or do you see another connection entirely between the two -- the desire for change and those who act?
I can't really speak to the impact of my story, but the concerns and problems I was trying to get a grip on in that story seem to be playing themselves out on the streets and in parks around the world right now. The protagonist in the "Time Box" story seeks a seam in history in order to alter society. Perhaps that is what OWS is doing now. I'm very hopeful.

Copyright © 2011 by Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide