Joe R. Lansdale – Interview

Just about every writer I know has a story of how they discovered the novels of Joe R. Lansdale.

Mine’s probably similar to most.

My family lived in a small, isolated Southern California town 30 miles east of a small Air Force base spawned city called Victorville. My home town wasn’t all that much and my family had to make the drive into Victorville once a month to do what we called “the Big shopping.” Typically my brother and I tagged along so we could drop twenty or thirty bucks at the local comic shop or maybe snatch up a couple of books at K-mart—which, other than Pic-n-Save, was at the time the only Department store in Victorville and pretty much the only place you could buy books.

At thirteen I was a confirmed horror junkie. Along with comics, the thirteen year-old me spent most of his free time devouring any horror novel I could get my hands on (And, no, the 37-year-old me hasn’t changed all that much.) and when I spotted the mass market paperback of the first Drive-In novel sandwich between some dry Asimov epic and a Robert Silverberg Ace double, I was excited. Lansdale was lumped into the same category as David J. Schow and the whole splatterpunk movement. He was one of the badasses– and nearly impossible to find, at least in my little world– of horror

But I was slightly confused, the cover of the book really threw me off.

Two blob like, one eyed blue-green aliens apparently riding around in a space ship, one holding a video camera the other a black and white movie slate staring down at a movie screen with a buzzing chainsaw projected on it

Was it a horror novel?

Or was it some light hearted sci-fi romp about aliens making a movie?

The back cover description wasn’t much help either.

But in the end, I chucked the book, along with one of the 3000 or 4000 novels T.M. Wright wrote during the eighties, into my mom’s shopping cart. And like most books that inevitably change the way I look at the world, the first Drive-In novel sat on my bookshelf for six months collecting dust.

When I finally cracked it open and entered planet Lansdale. I won’t say it was magic, but it was ground breaking. The book I was reading challenged every conception of what I thought horror fiction was. The Drive-In was perverse, funny, and the only novelist I could compare Lansdale to (and still compare him to.) was Kurt Vonnegut…..but with canibals and monsters who puked up popcorn shaped eyeballs.

And when I found out all of the Drive-In novels were being re-issued in a single volume by Underland Press, I felt the same dopey excitement I had when I was thirteen and I hit the pre-order button so hard I nearly broke the mouse.

I practically did the same thing when the opportunity arose to interview Lansdale.

Anyway, enough of my blather, let’s take a brief trip to planet Lansdale.

Keith Rawson: The Drive In books is some extremely dark material. How did the idea for the first novel come to you?

Joe Lansdale: Oddly, I’m a sort of positive guy, but my material is often dark. I can’t explain it, but it may be the way I balance myself. It’s also how I see things overall. They may be good for me, but for a lot of people they suck. It’s also a form of expression that works for me. A writerly conceit, if you will. I often went to drive ins, loved them, and I had a dream where I was trapped in one, and it wouldn’t go away. I wrote an article for “Twilight Zone Magazine”, and it was noticed by my editor, Pat LoBrutto, who was at Doubleday then, and he asked if I’d write a novel about it. I sent him a slightly expanded idea, and he liked it, and I wrote it. I didn’t like it when I wrote it, but when I reread it in page proofs, I was really proud of it.

There seems to be a lot of Lovecraft/Howard style imagery through out the first Drive in novel. What books/films influenced you as you were writing them?

I have read a lot of Lovecraft and Howard, but I don’t remember being consciously aware of their influence at the time. I also read a lot of just offbeat novels by writers who weren’t considered horror or S.F. or fantasy writers on the whole, and I think that had an influence on me. I grew up on pulp stories and comics and film, and S.F., horror and fantasy books, but when I was in my early twenties, I became influence by crime novels, noir, and mainstream literature, Hemingway, Kafka, Steinbeck, and so on. Also a bunch of strange little novels like The Tennis Handsome, by Barry Hannah, and many others of that ilk, and Flannery O’Conner and William S. Burroughs. It kind of all ran together.

Through out all of the introductions of the reissue you mention several times that you never had the intention of writing any of the sequels, so why write them?

I had such a hard time writing The Drive In, even though it went swiftly. It’s funny, but it’s also dark. It’s kind of a surrealistic Lord of the Flies in a way. I thought I was writing a serious novel, but I wasn’t sure it was turning out well. Later, as I said, i was very pleased. When I was asked to do a sequel, I needed the money, but didn’t want to write something just for money. I had ideas left over, and I pushed them. When I go to the third, many, many years later, I didn’t think of an audience at all. In fact, I didn’t think of one on any of those novels, and that’s why I’m proud of them. I seldom consider any audience other than myself, because I have no idea what anyone else wants. I have to write for me. But my taste are a little odd. On occasion, I fit right in with the mainstream, but sometimes, not so much. Those books allowed me to express my weirder side.

The Complete Drive In has an extensive section of story board art from a possible film adaptation of the first Drive In novel. What production company was attached to develop the book and whatever happened to them moving forward with the project?

Don Coscarelli at one point wanted to do a film, but it never happened. That’s are the arranged, and was kind enough to allow to appear in the book. Currently, there’s other interest, so no money, and therefore the project is stalled.

Los Angeles novelist Eric Beetner wanted me to ask this question. When you were writing the first Drive In novel, did you ever self censor? Did you ever say to yourself, ‘Okay maybe I’ve gone a little too far?’ Do you self censor with any of your novels and stories?

I wasn’t aware of it, but I suppose you do that subconsciously. I wrote full tilt boogie when I did it. I do censor from time to time if I think what I’m doing is going too far. Sometimes, however, I’m too far long before anyone else thinks I am.

You’ve written in such a wide array of styles and genres in your career. Why do you move between genres so often? And do you think genre even matters?

I have a lot of interests. It’s as simple as that. I like all those different kinds of genres and non genres, and in fact, genre for genre sake bores me. I think I write novels for the most part, and the genre is in the eye of the beholder. Obviously, I know if I’m going to be in a horror anthology, it has to be horror, but I don’t look at that as my only concern, unless that’s what I’m in the mood to do. I just recently wrote a series of pulp pieces, old school, for nostalgic fun. Next time, I might write for a literary magazine, or some other kind of publication. I try to have fun. I don’t mind a stimulus for a story–do something noir, etc., but I like to play with those expectations. Genre has its place, and I know some readers like to know they are going to get a certain thing, and that’s fine. I like that too–up to a point. But I don’t like genre to rule my reading. If I had, I’d have never discovered how many different kinds of writing and reading I like.

In your long career, what’s been your favorite novel or short story to write?

I don’t know that I have a favorite. It depends on what day you ask me. I’m very fond of Hap and Leonard as a series, and think Mucho Mojo is the best of that group. I think The Bottoms and A Fine Dark Line are good books, and they do reach a wide audience. I like the Drive In Books for their originality, he says trying not to sound immodest. I have a special feeling for The Magic Wagon. You see how it is. I suppose Night They Missed the Horror Show is a favorite of mine because it changed my life, and to some extent, my career. But I really love short stories, and there are a number I feel good about–a large number. I think most writers feel that way.

Is there any story or novel you wish you could rewrite and take in a different direction?

Probably all of them. But that isn’t going to happen. I think as you learn, you’d like another crack at everything. but, if I had the chance, I wouldn’t. They are each creatures of their time, and that’s what makes them special. I mean, correcting spelling or grammer, or a mistake, is one thing. But the books are the books.

Is there a book that you’ve always wanted to write but haven’t gotten around to yet? Or a piece you wish you could just take back and never let it see the light of day?

Nope. I did the best on all of them I could at the time. They may not hold up, but at the time I was doing the best I could, and many of those stories hold up well, or have a kind of oddball charm about them. A few are lousy, and I don’t allow some to be reprinted, but I’m glad I wrote them all. I learned as I went,and sometimes a reader will like a story of mine that I don’t really feel that strongly about now. But at the time, I was giving it everything I had. Of course, sometimes you’re writing when everything is cooking, at other times, you let it cook too long or not enough. It’s similar to cooking, in fact. You get so you’re good and can do well time after time, but now and again, you burn the cake.

With your wide swath of influence on the writing community, have you ever been tempted to pull a James Patterson and simply attach your name to projects and let younger novelists do the heavy lifting while you sit back with a glass of sweet tea and enjoy the wealth and accolades?

I don’t mind being the influence for an idea or series, but I don’t expect, or want, anyone to write under my name other than me. I might do pen name books for fun, or even profit, but I don’t lend my name to things I didn’t write. If I created a world, say the Drive In World, and other folks wrote in it, that would be different, but I wouldn’t pretend I wrote it. I’m not just a business, I’m an artist to the best of my limited ability.

What do you think about the current state of publishing? How do you feel about such electronic reading devices as the Kindle or iPad? Do you think such reading devices will ever replace traditional books?

Publishing sucks in many ways, but it was never meant to be as big as it became. There were never the readers there for fiction. It became too much like the film industry. I think there will always be books, but Kindles, etc, will become more and more prominent. Reading is reading, and someone has to write the material. The problem will be getting paid adequately for it.

You’ve done a fair amount of writing for comic books. How much did you enjoy scripting and do you have any comic book projects coming down the pipe?

I love comics. My brother and I did an adaptation and update of Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, by Robert Bloch for IDW, which is forthcoming, and I did a piece for Creepy not long ago. I’ve written a lot of comics. It was my first love as a reader, and I still love them.

The last time you were in Phoenix at the Poisoned Pen, you mentioned that Bill Paxton was looking to develop The Bottoms into a film. Is there a more news regarding that project?

Bill Paxton is still involved with The Bottoms as director. A script is being done. I did a draft, and now another writer is doing a draft. We’ll see how it works out.

The last I’d heard you were working on a young adult novel. Is the YA novel finished? And if so, what’s the premise and release date?

I finished the YA, but have just turned it in

When can we expect the next Hap and Leonard novel?

Devil Red, the new Hap and Leonard novel, is next year.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on a screenplay of Savage Season.

And lastly, when you’re doing press or out on tour, what’s the one question that makes you say, ‘You know, I could really go without answering that question ever again?’

There’s not really a question that bothers me.

The Complete Drive-In is now avaiable from Underland Press

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Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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About Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift.(New Pulp Press) He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

7 Replies to “Joe R. Lansdale – Interview”

  1. a reminder that i just don’t have enough lansdale on my shelves.
    i came about his work in much less romantic circumstances and at a much later age, mainly because in a bookstore in the lovely hay-on-wye i found five or six all for a pound (less than a dollar!) with brilliant covers that said ‘buy me’ – so i did. and no regrets.

  2. Always good to see Joe being interviewed. Sounds like a straightforward guy with a good perspective on his own writing. Love, love, love his stuff. Nice interview Keith.

  3. Mucho Mojo was obviously great, but I have a soft spot for Two-Bear Mambo. That shit was just nasty. Good stuff, Keith.