About four years ago, I launched this blog into an author interview project that included interviews with over sixty working authors at various stages of their careers. One of the things I learned from this project is just how many authors out there are darn fine, gracious people. I also learned a lot about how they do what they do, and if you’re a writer, go back through the archives, and you will too.
The first author interview of this series was with Joe R. Lansdale. Before then, and up to now, he’s been one of my favorite writers. His stuff is insightful, gritty, poignant, witty, and utterly unflinching–and at times, downright twisted. He’s written novels, short stories, screenplays, stage plays, comics, and who knows what else.
It’s not every day that a person gets to meet one of his idols. I went to my first World Horror Convention this year, in large part because Joe was Guest of Honor. I was fortunate to meet him and discover that he is as gracious and friendly as an East Texas accent, and that his talent for storytelling goes far beyond the page.
TH: It’s been just over four years since your first interview here (March, 2008). What have been some major developments or changes in your career since then?
JRL: Wow. Four years is a long time. I don’t know if I can recall all the things I’ve done or have been doing, or have been trying to do. But to recap it best I can, the most important thing is I’ve changed publishers. I moved from Knopf and Vintage to Mulholland Books, a branch of Little Brown, and I’m really happy with them at this point. My new book EDGE OF DARK WATER is out from them, and they seem behind it.
I have also been doing Young Adult books for Delacorte. I’ve done one, ALL THE EARTH THROWN TO THE SKY that I’m proud of, and have two more on the contract at this point.
I’ve started trying to produce and co-produce films, and we’ll see how that works out. The only one I’ve done so far that’s come to fruition is CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD. It’s based on a short story of mine, screenplay by my son, Keith, directed by Terrill Lee Lankford, and Damian Maffei stars. My daughter and son-in-law, as well as Brad Maule, formerly of GENERAL HOSPITAL, have parts in the film. It’s kind of a zombie film, but not the usual sort of chomp fest. That’s part of it, but it’s mostly about this guy trying to live a normal life in a word infested with zombies. It’s actually quite a bit sentimental.
I’m thinking I might even try directing a film in the future. We’ll see if that happens. It might not.
As for other things, I received another Bram Stoker for a story, got another for LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT, and my wife received the RICHARD LAYMAN AWARD for her contributions to the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION, of which she was the main founder.
TH: Your most recent novel, released just a few weeks ago, is The Edge of Dark Water. You’ve said that this is your best book so far. Why do you think so?
JRL: It is hard to explain why I feel that way. I feel that all the things I do well are here. The kind of story I like to tell is here. Some of the same background of other novels is here, but not the story and characters. I really love it. Ask me in six months if it’s still my favorite. Then ask me in a year. That might change. Until I wrote THE BOTTOMS my favorites of my work were THE MAGIC WAGON and THE DRIVE IN. I still love those, but then I wrote A FINE DARK LINE, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, and ALL THE EARTH THROWN TO THE SKY, and liked those even better, and now this one. I have enjoyed all my books, and I love writing about Hap and Leonard, but that series is in a way one big novel. But this new one, well, I have a strong feeling about it.
TH: What was the genesis of The Edge of Dark Water?
JRL: The genesis for the novel were stories told to me about the Great Depression, as well as mythology of some of the classics like HUCKLEBERRY FINN, by Mark Twain, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER by Davis Grubb, THE ODYSSEY, that sort of thing.
TH: Who are your idols or mentors? What about other major influences?
JRL: So many. I like good storytellers, and interesting stylist the most. I mentioned some above, but you can toss in Flannery O’Conner, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch, Harper Lee, Richard Matheson, Raymond Chandler, James Cain, Ernest Hemingway, and as a kid I loved Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. Poe is there. Jack London certainly. It’s a long list, and that’s just part of it.
TH: What are the differences in the business worlds of fiction and film? If writers want to cross over from one to the other, what might they experience?
JRL: Film people have a lot of different ropes tugging at them. The money people, the actors, especially those with power, the director and his or her vision, the screenwriter, who has their own vision, so many people behind the scenes doing different things. I feel it’s much more a craft than an art, because no matter how artistic a screenplay might be, the only thing that really counts is what it comes to be on the screen. A good screenplay can become junk, a bad one can become art, but if it’s art it’s primarily by accident. It’s a wonder any films get made. Just being Executive Producer on a small budget film like CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, you start having to deal with the weather and ego, and things that go wrong that are no one’s fault. It’s the nature of the business. Not that ego is bad. You have to have one to get anything done, but when you have a bunch of them it can be a real problem. On big films where a lot of money is involved, it has the potential to be worse. It’s like the music business. Seems most people are out to screw you, just because they can, or they hold the power in their hands and want you to know it. Publishing can sure screw you as well, but it’s your book. You get to be the producer, director, actors, even the animals and the scenery. You may have to deal with an editor, but mostly editors seem to me to be a lot more reasonable. I’ve had a few that weren’t, and I just took my toys and went home, or took them to another house. But that’s rare. The writer is the star in publishing. In film, the writer is just there to serve everyone else. Or so it seems.
TH: Any chance of a Bubba-Hotep sequel?
JRL: Not that I know of.
TH: How did you break into comics? What was your first work in comics?
JRL: I got a call from D.C. comics to see if I wanted to work for them. But I had been writing novels and short stories by then, and it was known I loved comics. I also think the artist who I ended up working with, my brother Tim Truman [creator of Grimjack], put in a word for me. Same with [artist/illustrator] Mark Nelson. Mark was first to want to work with me, and Tim was the one that I wrote the Jonah Hex series with, and the first run of those came out before the ones with Mark. That’s about the sum of it.
TH: Are there any realms you would still like to break into?
JRL: I’ve done a couple of short Grand Guignol stage plays, and they’ve both been performed. I think I’d like to write more plays, at least one three act and see it performed some place. A musical might be fun. I’d like to direct a stage play. I want to write a screenplay that’s done the way I want, possibly directed by me. Other than that, I like what I do now, and plan to keep doing it as long as I am able.
TH: You’re also Writer in Residence at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. What kind of classes do you teach? What do your students experience in your class?
JRL: I teach creative writing, screenplay writing, and once I taught comic book writing. My plan this fall is to teach a class on The Weird and The Fantastic. It’s a writing class, as well as a class on the subject itself. My students usually write a lot, and they get a lot of practical advice.
TH: You’re also an accomplished martial artist and instructor. What are the roots and origin of Shen Chuan?
JRL: The roots come from different systems I’ve studied. When I was eleven my dad began teaching me boxing and wrestling and the self-defense he had picked up. He got me interested in pursuing Judo, Hapkido, Taekwondo, Kenpo, Thai Boxing, and so many different things. I was cross training when it wasn’t cool. I also had to change systems from time to time because my instructors moved, or just quit teaching. I’ve stuck at it for fifty years this Fall. I hope to keep doing it for some time to come. Shen Chaun is the system I’ve founded, and it’s not just those aforementioned systems lumped together. They are properly blended until Shen Chuan has become its own thing.
TH: What are you working on now?
JRL: I’m writing a new novel, and part time I’m writing a novella. That’s as much as I’ll talk about them at this stage.
TH: What are you reading now?
JRL: I’m rereading LITTLE BIG MAN by Thomas Berger, and I’m reading WITCH FINDER, a Mike Mignola comic.
TH: If someone were going to read Joe R. Lansdale for the first time, what would you recommend?
JRL: I’d either start with the new one, EDGE OF DARK WATER, or THE BOTTOMS or A FINE DARK LINE. If they like series, MUCHO MOJO in the Hap and Leonard series.