By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Lange ended up getting a scholarship to USC’s film school. He worked 32 hours a week at the supermarket near campus to support his schooling.
“Which was humiliating, you know? These frat boys would come in and be, like, ‘Hey, there’s that punk-rock kid from school.’ And I was bagging their groceries for them. That was a great experience, though. I always say I learned as much working there as I ever learned in school.”
He found he didn’t really love the sort of writing he was doing at film school.
“I got to film school and I didn’t realize it was so collaborative and that you had to work with so many people,” he says. “I didn’t realize that I would hate that so much and I started taking writing classes. You know, I’d always been writing. As a kid I’d write books. I’d write novels when I was in high school. Science-fiction stuff. I never did anything with them, but then when I came to USC I started taking writing classes with T.C. Boyle. You know he taught there.”
Lange says Boyle was the first guy who told him he might have what it takes. So, he started wailing away at short stories. He also tried a novel in his 20s, which, he says, “really sucks.”
After graduating in 1984, Lange, like so many fine-writers of his generation, got a job working for Flynt Publications. Lange was the managing editor of the heavy-metal magazine R.I.P. under editor Lonn Friend. I’m not kidding about the fine writers thing, either. Jerry Stahl, Evan Wright and others also got their start with Flynt. If there’s a subplot to the Los Angeles literary scene, it may be that. But Lange’s reasons for going there were a little more pedestrian.
“It was the only publishing job besides the Weekly, so it was one of the only publishing jobs that sort of paid well,” he says. “All these people were coming into it . Very talented, smart and quick people, and they were all super funny and a little sick. I loved it. It’s still the best job I ever had. The people there were so cool.”
During that time, Lange returned to writing short stories and submitted them relentlessly.
“I was always one of those guys who sent out. I never just kept my stuff to myself. I wanted to get published,” he says. “So I always wrote with that idea of getting published, and I was getting rejected and rejected. I had all these rules I put on myself, like, I wasn’t going to write first person, because I thought it was too easy. Finally I just threw them all out the window and sat down and wrote a first-person story, which, you know, all the stories in the book are first-person. Once I went back to doing that, which is what I like to do, it started happening. I got published. I think I was, like, 33 or 34 and I had my first story published in a little college literary magazine. You know, it’s true what they say, once you get one, once they see that credit, they’ll start [coming to you].”
To make a long story grossly short, an agent found Lange, a bidding war started between Knopf and Little, Brown, the two most highfalutin houses in the business, predicated on coming up with a novel to follow the collection, and here he is now. None of which explains the joy of reading this unlikely batch of stories about folks with one foot in despair and the other fumbling for a way out. There’s a deep, deadpan melancholy, if there can be such a thing, in Lange’s writing that gives this collection a sort of unity, setting it firmly on the edge of a life where the disappointments are large and the victories fleeting. The voice is so strong and so authentic, I wonder how they came from this cheerful guy in front of me.
“You know, I get depressed like everybody else, but I’m not that guy,” says Lange. “But I see it and, like, I feel it. Maybe it’s just that I’m so scared of it. Because I think the things that I write about are the things I’m most scared of. Like, I don’t want to live in a motel in the Valley. I’ve been poor. It fucking sucks. I want to do better. So, now, finally, I’m getting to do what I want to do and it’s like a miracle for me. I never thought it would happen. Especially, you know, you get to be 40 years old and you’re, like, eh fuck it.”