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An Interview With Author Joseph Langley

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To begin, please introduce yourself to our audience. What is your name? Who are you? What books have you written?

My name is Joseph Langley, and I have written a grand total of three books, but close to being done with number four. As I wrote them, there was first The Path of Good Intentions, a WWI era coming of age story about one young man’s death of idealism, and the redemption hiding within it, mixed with the tiniest bit of magical-realism. After that came The Pied Piper of Delaware County, a post-apocalyptic tale of zombie-themed adventure. Third on the list was A Necessary Hell, the sequel to The Path of Good Intentions, told from the initial book’s antagonist’s point of view, picking up where the first left off with WWII starting to get underway. Obviously an important event that I couldn’t keep my characters out of. Outside of writing, I am a tattoo artist by trade, a practitioner of Wing Chun kung fu in my free time, and I’ve even started learning to speak Russian, for some reason. During the course of writing The Path of Good Intentions, set primarily in Russia, I developed a fondness for the language.

What first inspired you to become a writer? And what compels you to continue your career as an author?

Sheer boredom, and antisocial tendencies initially started me down the path of writing. I started writing an autobiography when I was 23, regarding the day-to-day happenings of a tattoo artist. This was before Miami Ink and such, so it was still a relatively fresh idea at the time. But then Jeff Johnson beat me to the punch with his tattoo artist memoir, Tattoo Machine; Tall Tales, True Stories, And My Life In Ink. I was bummed at the time, but then again it was an unending drain on my time and patience. It became a running joke with my girlfriend turned fiancé turned wife that every year like clockwork I would print it out, read through it, edit it, and change it on my computer. But people change too damned much during their twenties for there to ever be a cohesive theme behind it. Oftentimes I would read through it and cringe at the things I used to believe. But I was in my twenties and an anarchist, sooooo…

It was a good practice book though, but it will never see the light of day. I don’t even have a copy of it anymore. It wasn’t until 2010 that I started really writing again, after a few-year hiatus. I had had the beginnings of Path of Good Intentions bubbling around in my head for some time. Seriously, I liken it more to junky-thoughts, just lingering in the background saying “Do more drugs!” Except I don’t do drugs, so instead I carried this voice around for the better part of two months that I was honestly trying to ignore. Strangely enough, the main thing that compelled me to start writing it was after I went on a profanity-laced tirade on Facebook regarding the synonyms for “Literally” and how if they were used in its place, my life would be ten times easier. It bears mentioning that I was tattooing on a college campus at the time, and thusly heard a lot of it. An old (church-going, pious) acquaintance then chastised me for using too much profanity and said it was a sign of not being able to properly express myself. Very childishly, I responded with an entire goddamn book, albeit ten months later. Many of my early works were undertaken for vindictive reasons, strangely enough.

What is the first book you read that made you fall in love with literature?

I think American education just fosters a hatred for reading, so during my formative elementary school years, I didn’t like reading all that much, usually because I knew there was a book report looming on the other end of it all. My dad was big on reading, education, and the like; an old-school D&D nerd. He would periodically give me books to read during the summer, but I viewed these as extensions of the school work. Finally he gave me the first installment of the Myth series by Robert Asprin, and I burned through the book and wanted more. Luckily, there were something like 6 or 7 more books in the series. I would say that nothing made an impact like that on me until reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 some years later, and then Lamb by Christopher Moore.

What do you think is the most difficult part of being a writer? What is the most rewarding part?

As a writer, you disappear into this land of your own making where fantastic, horrible, jaw-dropping things happen left and right. That’s what it’s like to you, but to everyone around you you’re just staring into a computer screen like a damned zombie. Basically, you are the source of the annoying tapping sound in the room. Also, it’s like when you’re reading a good book and you near the end, where the shit really starts to hit the fan and the pacing starts churning along like a machine gun. The kind of books where you make up poops that you have to take just so you can sit on the toilet in peace and be late to work, just so you can find out what happens in the next chapter …or the next chapter …or I swear, just one more and then you’ll actually start your day. (The last Harry Potter book was like that for me) It is ten times more amplified when you’re actually controlling it. And the worst part is, you can’t tell anyone about it, because for one, they don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, and two, they probably don’t care if they do. No one really cares about your day to day accomplishments; they want to see the end result. Mind you, that doesn’t mean they actually want to read it. They just want to see a pile of papers filled with words, or more realistically a printed and bound book with an autograph. Walk into a room with your chest puffed out though and proudly tell everyone that you’ve written three-thousand words today, which is two-thousand more than your self-imposed daily quota, and everyone is going to just nod silently and go back to what they were doing.

The most rewarding part, thus far, is running into people who actually get it. They read your work and genuinely enjoy it. Greatest compliment I first received for my work was when I completed the first draft of Pied Piper of Delaware County and left a copy lying around the tattoo shop. My manager found it, started reading it, and then proceeded to lock himself in his office for the next eight hours reading the rest of it from beginning to end instead of, you know, actually working. Even better than that was making my wife cry when I dedicated A Necessary Hell to her. She has a guilty pleasure in reading romance novels, so in a sense the entire book was written for her somewhat in that format.

What is your most recent work? What can audiences expect from this book or series?

My fourth book is a work in progress I’m calling Ragnarok Unbound, a gangster novel about the LSD trade in a theme park that is a flimsy knock-off of a beloved American tradition. I like to equate it to Goodfellas meets Hot Fuzz. After that, I’m forming the beginnings of a Pied Piper of Delaware County sequel, and yet another installment of Path of Good Intentions/Necessary Hell. I usually have a few half-formed ideas for books rattling around in my head at any given time.

What do you think are the most common misconceptions about writers?

Are there any? I think people think about writers as often as Americans think about Lithuania. We’re on the radar, but how often do people really think about us? There are of course the stereotypes of the guy at the coffee shop more focused on discussing their writing project, than actually working on it. That’s a pretty easy one to avoid though; just never take a laptop into a coffee shop.

Why did you decide to join Permuted Press?

I don’t have the patience for traditional publishing; getting an agent, having the agent pitch my book to publishers, back and forth for years on end. I understand why it is the way it is, and I understand taking the time to polish something into the greatest piece of work I can make, but I can’t just put together a project I’m really excited about and then just sit on it for five to ten years. By the time it goes to press, that was six damned books ago, six different imaginary world’s ago, and now I’m told I have to get excited about it all over again so I can sell it to people. No thank you.

Industry insiders will say that if I don’t have the patience to deal with the various avenues they want to pursue, I have no business being in this industry or pursuing a writing career. And I totally agree with them. I am just a tattoo artist who has a horrible addiction to writing. And that’s basically what it is; a horrible addiction. This isn’t a career to me. I’m not harboring false hopes that I’m ever going to write full-time. So I understand why the writing industry is as it is, and I respect it for what it is, but at the same time they have to realize that they are demanding an awful lot out of me for something that is tantamount to an addiction in my eyes. I don’t have time to sit down and read interviews by literary agents to see if I want them to represent my works, and I sure as hell don’t have time to read their entire catalogue of books they’ve sold. I have tattoos that demand my attention right now, and maybe a chapter or two I can bang out in my free time. So when those are done, if my options boil down to researching and querying agents, or spending time with my wife and kids, the wife and kids win out every time. I mean, we’re entering homework assignment territory here, which is what I was trying to avoid from day one.

Permuted Press seemed to streamline the whole process for me, and when I first finished writing Pied Piper of Delaware County and was looking at doubling my stack of literary agent query rejection letters, especially with a zombie novel that the industry was screaming they had more than enough of, Permuted Press seemed like an obvious choice for me. For a long time I had been likewise addicted to reading articles on Cracked.com, and came to really enjoy David Wong’s articles in particular. Then I learned he had a book published by Permuted Press, and that book had even been turned into a movie. Seriously, why NOT go down that road? I went from an aspiring-author one day, to a guy with a three-book deal.

What are your dreams for the future as a writer?

Keep writing? It’s not like I have a choice in the matter. As long as the ideas keep coming, I’m going to keep writing them down. I would like for them to be turned into movies, and keep replaying scenes with corresponding music in my head, but I’m not holding my breath on that one. Even if they were to get made, I have serious doubts anyone in that industry would actually sit down and listen to my own artistic input.

Is there anything else that you would like for people to know about yourself and your work?

I’m a very big fan of hiding things in my works. Just like how I like to sneak penises into my drawings (which never get tattooed onto people, I must say). In literary form, these take the form of allusions to other works I have done, or other great works of fiction, movies, even video games. I have nothing better to do. No one I have asked about them ever seems to spot them, but by all means go looking for them. People are usually pleasantly surprised.

Do you have any events coming up such as conventions or book signings?

Not yet. If you’re ever in the Southern California area and want a tattoo, feel free to drop by and let me grind needles into your skin. We can talk books.

Where can people find more information about you?

I have a Facebook artist page I update from time to time. www.facebook.com/joelangleytattoomaker. It’s mostly tattoo stuff though. It’s mostly tattoo stuff though. I’m also getting the hang of Instagram, but once more, it’s mostly tattoo stuff.