Joe Lansdale on Mojo Storytelling, His Upcoming Compilation, and More
Joe R. Lansdale has been called a Mojo storyteller, a cult figure, a gifted storyteller, a folklorist, and an American original. I prefer to think of him as a purveyor of the Southern Gothic genre with stops to deliver some of the best crime stories through his recurring characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. (If you haven’t read a Hap and Leonard story, you need to get with the program and pick up a copy of Savage Season, their first adventure.)
Joe has also delighted horror fans with film versions of his short stories Bubba Ho-Tep and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road.
Dread Central recently spoke with the laconic Texan about how he feels being a cult icon as well as what’s up next.
DC: Thank you so much for taking time to speak with Dread Central, Joe. With your prolific writing schedule, I’m surprised you had the time. First off, for those poor souls who MAY not have heard of you, who is Joe R. Lansdale and why is he so damn popular with horror and mystery fans?
JRL: I'm not sure how to answer that. I hope I'm popular enough. I just try to write honestly and have as much fun with the story as the reader might. I write primarily for myself, as I'm the only reader who has any idea what I would like to read. I then hope others will like to read it, but I don't really write for anyone but me.
DC: There is a compilation of the "best" of your short fiction coming out in March, 2010, The Best of Joe R. Lansdale from Tachyon Press. How would you sum up the stories you chose to be in this collection? And why did you choose the titles you included in the book?
JRL: I didn't choose the stories. The publisher did. But I'm happy with the choices. I didn't really think of this as a "best of". That was the publisher's title, but I'm certainly proud of all the stories chosen.
DC: Are many people surprised when they find out you wrote Bubba Ho-Tep and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road (one of the Masters of Horror episodes)? And is there ever going to be a follow-up to Bubba Ho-Tep? I have heard mentioned Bubba Nosferatu as a possible sequel. Care to expound on the rumors?
JRL: Some are. Some who follow my work and others say, 'Oh yeah; well, that fits.' I don't know any more about a 'Bubba' sequel than you do. I know Don Coscarelli has a script and has tried to put it together, and I know Bruce decided to pass, so I couldn't tell you if it's possible or not.
DC: For people who may not have heard of you until they get their hands on The Best of…, which of your past works would you recommend the uninitiated go back and read?
JRL: I think THE BOTTOMS is good entry level, then MUCHO MOJO to know about Hap and Leonard, my series characters, and then probably a collection like THE BEST OF JOE R. LANSDALE. That really shows a variety of my work and the different kinds of writing I like to do.
DC: What is "Mojo" storytelling, and how did you become the king of it?
JRL: Mojo storytelling was not my title, but my fine and wonderful webmaster, Lou Bank, came up with that. It's catchy, and I like it. It pretty much means magical storyteller.
DC: You are from East Texas and live in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is like another planet for all of those readers NOT from the South. Why do you think your works resonate so with readers from all over the world? (I have a friend in London who recently discovered your works and has contacted me to get more recommendations.) And how does it feel to be called a Southern Gothic author? Or do you have another “name” you prefer to be known as?
JRL: I don't really like labels other than the Lansdale label. I like to think a good story honestly told transcends background, culture, and the like. All I try to do is tell a story well.
DC: Aside from the fact that you live in East Texas (and fans of King of the Hill should know that THAT show is set in East Texas), what is the allure of that region for you?
JRL: King of the Hill, actually, is Central Texas, the Dallas area. But I love Texas because it's so varied. It’s more conservative than I am, but it's also oddly open. It's a contradiction. I think those contradictions and an independent attitude really appeal to me. And nothing happens anywhere else in quite the same way as it happens in Texas. It's the background of the state. It was once a republic, a country, and it still has that feel about it, although I'm certainly not with the idiots who talk about secession.
DC: Your take on East Texas involves an area blighted by racism, ignorance, urban and rural deprivation, and corruption in public officials. But also essentially “good”. Do you find yourself on the receiving end of your fellow East Texans’ ire at your description of them?
JRL: Most East Texans get it. I've been taken to task for the language, but I think, really? Who are you hanging with? A lot of people I know talk just that way. And it doesn't always depend on background or education level, though my guys are blue collar, and I try to reflect that.
DC: Which do you get more feedback from -- your Hap and Leonard mysteries (which MUST be read – they are wonderful!) or your more horrific short stories? And which do you enjoy writing more?
JRL: The Hap and Leonard novels get a lot of attention, though THE BOTTOMS and A FINE DARK LINE seemed to have made a dent in a lot of readers. I love writing mostly what I'm writing at the moment.
DC: You won the Edgar Award for the amazing The Bottoms, which also was named one of the New York Times' Notable Books in 2000. This coming-of-age novel blew me away – was it based on anything that may have happened to you as a young man?
JRL: It was a story, but a lot of the little details came from my parents, who lived through the Great Depression, and from some of my own experiences, as growing up in the Fifties and Sixties in East Texas was not too unlike the Thirties, which is when the novel takes place.
DC: You are also the recipient of seven Stoker Awards plus nine more nominations and winner of the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Horror Critics’ Award, another New York Times Notable Book of the Year Award, etc., etc. Does it ever get old – winning awards?
JRL: Of course not. But I don't live for it. I don't campaign for it, like some writers I know. But it's always nice to be respected.
DC: Your Hap and Leonard mysteries are finally being re-released after going out of print for a while. Will readers continue to enjoy the misadventures of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine down the road?
JRL: I certainly hope so. I'm writing a new one now. It's probably a little more sequel than series, in that it takes up pretty much where VANILLA RIDE let off, and it connects to that book more directly.
DC: Is there a genre you have not written in that you would like to explore one day?
JRL: I don't know. I'll find it if it's there, I suppose. I just sort of go where I'm interested at the moment. And I never know what I'm going to be interested in.
DC: You have also found a niche in graphic novels and comic books. How did you get involved in that, and how did you go about adapting Robert E. Howard’s horrifying Pigeons from Hell (one of the scariest stories I have ever read) into a graphic novel?
JRL: Actually, my Pigeons From Hell was more of a sequel, but I wanted to give it echoes of the original. The original had already been done in comics, and I wanted to kind of update it and take it to a slightly new area without removing all the bells and whistles from the original. I love comics, and I love writing comics.
DC: What writers have been a big influence on you?
JRL: Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mark Twain, Jack London, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Flannery O'Conner, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, William Goldman, Philip Jose Farmer, Gerald Kersh, Fred Brown, Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, James Cain, to name a few.
DC: What have you read recently that blew you away? Are there any upcoming titles you are really looking forward to reading? And what are some of your favorite authors and stories?
JRL: As for what I've read and really liked lately, I'd say WOMEN by Charles Bukowski and a collection of short stories, NEW STORIES OF THE SOUTH, edited by Madison Smartt Bell.
DC: Would you ever collaborate with another author on a horror novel, and who would be on your short list of collaborators?
JRL: I've collaborated, and I'm not against it, but I'm not all that for it either. I have such a personal way of working I find it difficult and usually not very satisfying.
DC: Do you make time to check out current films? Any you have seen lately that you would recommend to others?
JRL: I watch all manner of films. PRECIOUS, I loved, and UP IN THE AIR and UP and THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS. I liked the look of AVATAR, though as a story it was very familiar, but the 3D effects were wonderful. A film called THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD really appealed to me.
DC: I have read that you are a Shen Chuan martial arts instructor and a member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame. What is Shen Chuan? And no one can say you aren’t eclectic in your interests: writing, martial arts, writer-in-residence at Stephen F. Austin University. What do you teach at the University?
JRL: Shen Chuan means spirit fist, and I founded this particular system, which is LANSDALE'S SHEN CHUAN, MARTIAL SCIENCE. It's based on numerous systems I've studied in nearly 48 years of training.
I teach screenwriting and creative writing and, now and again, comic book writing at the university. I enjoy teaching. I usually teach one semester a year, though sometimes more.
DC: What can readers and fans expect next from you? And when?
JRL: The new Hap and Leonard book and then a young adult novel on the Great Depression forthcoming from Delacorte.
DC: Do you still sell The Orbit Drive-In t-shirts with the proceeds going to…a charity for abused children (I believe that’s right). And if so, where can fans order the t-shirts?
JRL: Lou Bank set that up with my agreement, but right now they're all sold out. Maybe we'll do something like that again.
DC: Is there anything you would like to add that I haven’t covered?
JRL: No. Enjoy life, because this is the only one you get.
DC: What is one thing no one knows about Joe R. Lansdale that you think they should?
JRL: I can't think of anything special. If they don't know it, they don't need to know. Or want to.
Again, thanks to Joe for taking the time to speak with us. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale will be released February 16th by Tachyon Press. For more info on Joe R. Lansdale, visit his official site.
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