Exclusive: Joe R. Lansdale Talks His Upcoming Books, The Drive-In, and Shen Chuan
DC: How do you think eBooks and things like the Kindle and Nook are going to affect writers and, by extension of that, readers?
JRL: I’m meeting more and more people who read on the machines, and most of them are people who tell me they read more books now than ever before. I don’t know why that is, but one guy my wife and I were talking to the other day said his Kindle had made him a real reader. Said he used to read three to five books a year, and is now reading over thirty. Which for him, he said was a lot of books. It’s a lot of books for a lot of people. Three to five a year is a lot for the average reader. I think being able to order them without having to go to stores is a calling card for a lot of people. I prefer browsing when I can, holding the books, but I’ve nothing against the Kindle. I don’t think reading or books are going anywhere. I do think the old fashioned book will be more of a luxury item, and I think as the big markets go toward electronic, the specialty stores may well come back to serve those who want to browse and hold actual books in their hands. At the end of it all, we may have more people reading than ever before. How that will effect how writers are paid is another question, but frankly, I’m more optimistic than pessimistic about it.
DC: I’m a huge fan of your Hap & Leonard novels. The characters exhibit, in many ways, a progressive “live and let live” attitude toward, for example, Leonard being gay. Tell me a little about how that came to be… being a “southern writer,” it’s easy for some readers to expect a different – and less understanding - perspective.
JRL: I sat down to write a novel in the old Gold Medal novel tradition. I wanted to write about the sixties as seen looking back, their influences both positive and negative, and the character who was to be the main character was to have a lot of my own past, attitudes, etc, and then on the first page Leonard showed up. I didn’t know he was gay right away, but when I realized that’s how I wanted to go, I decided to just reveal it casually and to have it be just a part of who he was, instead of his defining quality. Some people say, “He doesn’t act gay.” I’m not sure how you act gay. There are certainly people who fit some of those stereotypes, and that’s why they are noticed, but there are plenty who do not. It’s the same for tough guys. There are people who appear tough and are, but there are many who appear that way and aren’t. The toughest guys I ever knew didn’t look like Rambo, they looked more like Ernest Borgnine.
Anyway, the characters developed naturally, and I just let them run. They have Southern influences, sixties influences, and they are a perfect vehicle for not only entertainment, but satire and humor and a way to express my views, which aren’t always the same as the characters, by the way. Hap and Leonard are killers. That’s not a positive thing, no matter how it’s justified, and it effects Hap deeply, and maybe Leonard more than he admits, but they are two guys with the best of intentions, and they reflect a lot of what we all think about and would sometimes like to do. I think that’s their appeal.
DC: Have there ever been talks about bringing Hap & Leonard to the screen? Someone told me they’d heard you were at work on a Savage Season script. If so, who would you like to see cast?
JRL: Plenty of times, and they have been optioned often, and there have been scripts by Ted Talley and myself, and yet, no films. I am currently doing the second draft on the SAVAGE SEASON script. We’ll see where that goes. A number of my other works are in progress as well. CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, a low budget film will be filmed here in Nacogdoches this summer, and it’s based on a story of mine. It’s up in the air right now if I’ll do the script or not. I’m overwhelmed. But it looks to be fun and a positive experience.
Brad Wyman, Bill Paxon and myself are trying to produce THE BOTTOMS. More on that later. There’s also COLD IN JULY in the wings, as well as a few other things. As for who I would like to see cast. My original picks were Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Bridges. But Hollywood sees them as too old for the part. I also loved the idea of Bill Paxton playing Hap, and Sam Jackson playing Leonard, but that ship has sailed if it has ever been on the horizon. Josh Lucas and Don Cheadle were said to be in line to do it once, but that didn’t happen, either. I like both of those actors. Currently, I don’t have anyone in mind. I like Josh Brolin for Hap, maybe.
DC: Greg Nicotero is reportedly directing a big screen version of The Drive-In. Is this true?
JRL: Sure looks that way. We’ll see how it pans out. I’m excited about the possibility.
DC: Are you involved with the proposed Bubba Ho-Tep sequel, Bubba Nosferatu? Is that still happening?
JRL: Nope. Not involved in that.
DC: Briefly, I want to diverge in my line of questioning and ask you a little about Shen Chuan. I understand it is a combat system that you’ve developed that is a mixture of Kenpo & Hapkido with elements of Aikido, Aikijutsu, Gung Fu, Judo, Wrestling, Boxing, Thai Boxing, Kickboxing, Arnis Jeet Kune Do, and – and this was kind of a surprise – Dim Mak.
JRL: Dim Mak in the sense that it uses pressure points, but not Dim Mak in the sense of the death touch and magic elements. I’m a realist. But, if you hit certain points in a certain way, you can get the reaction you want. Knock outs, weakness, etc. Because Dim Mak has so many superstitious elements attached, we usually just say reaction points, or pressure points. Some of the people I learned this stuff from have gone off the deep end and think they can knock people out without touching them, using their minds. It’s ridiculous. So, we’ll just say we use the weak points of the body to help out our techniques.
DC: First, explain if you would the genesis of the discipline and how it gets applied in your classes (full contact, kata, focus drills, etc). Are there drills used such as say, Lap Sao or Pak Sao?
JRL: We do a little of the Lap Sao, Pak Sao, but it’s only an attribute in our classes, and we use only a bit of it. We are more akin to check and control in the Kenpo manner, though we work much closer and use a lot of locks and throws, as well as those aforementioned pressure points.
DC: The description above makes me think Shen Chuan is sort of like Mixed Martial Arts or maybe Brazilian Jiujutsu with striking. Is that a fair assessment?
JRL: It’s more of a standup art, but it has groundwork. It’s not as sport-oriented, and is very self-defense. I don’t want to go to the ground if I can help it. Bad place to be in a real fight. But we try to know what to do when we get there. Students of mine have gone the MMA route and done well, so SHEN CHUAN is a system you can take in a lot of directions.
DC: I looked at some of the YouTube videos of the artform and saw a lot of Jeet Kune Do, joint manipulation, and a lot of simultaneous blocking & striking (Lin Sil Die Dar)… It’s very interesting.
JRL: Thanks. Most of it is just that I’ve been doing martial arts since I was eleven. Wrestling and boxing first, taught by my dad, then into the other arts. I blended them over the years, and I truly mean blended them.
DC: How has your knowledge of martial arts helped your writing?
JRL: Discipline. Focus. Confidence.
DC: Has teaching benefitted you (explaining difficult sequences of moves to students = describing action or series of events) in your writing?
JRL: I also teach part time at Stephen F. Austin University, and am Writer in Residence there. I’m teaching Writing Horror Fiction this semester. Teaching helps you teach yourself. It forces you to constantly evaluate, and to revisit the core of your thinking, the things that originally fired you up about either martial arts or writing, or whatever it is you’re teaching. It’s very satisfying.
DC: Ok, I could ask you about martial arts for hours… moving on. Tell me about Dead Man’s Road.
JRL: New book containing DEAD IN THE WEST and four novellas. One of the novellas is brand new. They all have to do with my wandering preacher, Reverend Mercer. They’re my pulp tributes.
DC: After Dead Man’s Road and the new Hap and Leonard novel, Devil Red, these two are released, what’s next for you? What are you working on now?
JRL: More novels and more stories, and who knows what all.
For more information on Joe R Lansdale, visit JoeLansdale.com.
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Talk all things Lansdale in the comments section below!