Exclusive: Joe R. Lansdale Talks His Upcoming Books, The Drive-In, and Shen Chuan
There are writers whom readers love. There are writers whom writers admire. And then there are the precious few: writers who can captivate a reader with the telling of their tale and with their characters as well as being able to astound their peers – the people who know the mechanics of what he does – and earn their respect by the journeyman-like talent displayed on every page of every book.
Joe R. Lansdale is one of those writers. Since the publication of his first novel, Act of Love, his unique voice has captured both the hearts and the imaginations of readers and wordsmiths alike.
And now, roughly three decades since, he continues to craft engaging, well written novels that spellbind an eager and voracious audience. With titles like The Drive-In, The Bottoms, Dead in the West, Nightrunners, the majestic Fine Dark Line, and the riotous Hap & Leonard Mysteries (Savage Season, Mucho Mojo, Two Bear Mambo, Bad Chili, Rumble Tumble), the short stories "Veil’s Visit", "Captains Outrageous", and "Vanilla Ride", and the upcoming Devil Red which will be available on March 15, 2011), his bibliography is legendary and one most people in the business of words will point to as being the very best of the best.
Equally adept at writing novels, short stories (his most well-known creation, Bubba Ho-Tep , was turned into a successful motion picture by Don Coscarelli [Phantasm]), comics, and graphic novels as well as screenplays for film and television, Joe R. Lansdale is a personal hero of mine and many other writers and genre fans. He stands as an author who works with a seeming ease, one who is able to craft stories that touch the mind, the heart, and yes… the funny bone. He is a complete professional and an inspiration to anyone who desires to work in the field.
Dread Central talked with Joe recently and asked about his career as a writer’s writer, his writing process, some upcoming projects, as well as Shen Chuan, a martial art he originated and teaches to this day.
Dread Central: How much of your writing is influenced by the fact that you live in the South / Eastern Texas?
Joe R. Lansdale: My writing is heavily influenced by the region where I live, East Texas. It’s quite a bit different from other parts of Texas and owes more to the South than to the Southwest. It is more Southern than Western in culture. Black culture and, to some extent, Cajun culture have influenced East Texas. Of course, East Texas is always evolving as new influences come in. Hispanic influences, though considerable in many other parts of Texas, were smaller when I was growing up. Now we have a much larger Hispanic population as well as a fairly large Asian population. People from the other parts of the world are starting to make East Texas their home as well. It’s a real stew, and yet, the Old East Texas lies under it all.
DC: You’ve said in interviews that you write “steadily,” electing to work for 3 hours or so a day, doing 3-5 pages a day (sometimes more). Do you keep yourself to that schedule as a matter of discipline, or if you’re on a roll, do you sometimes decide to sit and burn a whole day working on something you’re excited about.
JRL: I’m flexible. I try and work roughly three hours a day, and write at least three to five pages a day, but it can vary. I’ve recently started working more frequently, working weekends from time to time, and coming back in the afternoon to tinker with things. Since our children moved out and got on their own, my wife and I live a much more relaxed lifestyle in some ways, but my work has increased because I have more time, but I still have plenty of time for Karen and to do the things we like and to spend time with our kids and their spouses. It’s a pretty wonderful life, really. But, yes. If I’m on a roll, I keep rolling. I don’t stop progress. Now and again I will get a lot of pages a day. Last year I wrote half a novel in a week while on vacation in Key West. I was inspired, relaxed, and was truly on vacation, hanging out at the condo mostly, going into town a few times for dinner and some sightseeing, but mostly we stayed at the condo and slept late and read, watched a small bit of television, and visited with our daughter and her husband who were along, as well as my mother-in-law and brother-in-law who were also there. I came home and wrote the other half in a week and a half and was very happy with it. It was a Young Adult novel and something I had been thinking about for a while. I liked doing it so much I have a contract for two others, which will most likely take me the usual amount of time. It’s called ALL THE EARTH THROWN TO THE SKY.
Also, by writing three to five pages a day, I don’t have to do as much revision because I’m careful as I go. That doesn’t mean I spell well or don’t make typos, but it means the story and the prose are pretty much what I want the first time out. At least most of the time. Nothing is absolute. But when it comes time for a polish, I don’t have to totally rewrite, just fix up and add and subtract.
DC: Do you worry when that happens that exhaustion will play a part and make for a less than acceptable final result?
JRL: Sometimes as a freelance writer you find yourself crunched by deadlines, or needs for that next check, and yet you want to be true to your artistic designs, and it can be difficult. You have to do the best you can do each time out and just write the best you can. Exhaustion can effect your work, but some of the best work I’ve written were under tough circumstances and were written quickly. Still, of course exhaustion can defeat you. That’s why I try to write regularly and not cram it all into a short period of time, except when you have those inspired moments, like the book I was talking about before. But the truth is, no matter how hard you work, how fast you do it, how slow you do it, you can never be certain how good a work is until time tells you. Some of the books I liked the least when I wrote them turned out to be my favorites, and very often, the reader’s favorites. Which is why you write for yourself, not the reader. I can’t second guess the reader. Then when you’re finished, you hope the reader likes it. But you can’t think about that when you write.