Joe R Lansdale (Part 1)
I first interviewed Joe R Lansdale by post for Tales from the Broken Drum, the fanzine of Octarine (the SF/Fantasy Humour Society) when his incredible book The Drive-In was published in UK paperback in the early 1990s. Joe rapidly became one of my favourite authors and I was delighted to have the chance to meet him for a proper interview in 1996 when Mucho Mojo was published. A heavily edited version of this was published in SFX. This full transcript was published in The Brentford Mercury, the newsletter of Sproutlore (the Official Robert Rankin Appreciation Society).
Jump to Part 2.
I read that you wrote some novels before Act of Love under pseudonyms or as a ghost writer.
"The ghosts will remain ghosts. I wrote a book as Ray Slater. It was a western. It came out over here in hardback. It was called Texas Nightriders. That was the first novel that I sold. And then I did ones that are known. I did The MIA Hunters based on an outline by Steven Merson, who created the characters. He went in and did some re-writing on it. But I certainly did the first draft on that. These were jobs that came my way: allowed me to eat; allowed me to write The Magic Wagon and whatever else I was working on."
The new one, Mucho Mojo, seems to be a sequel to Savage Season.
"I think of it more as a series than a sequel because each book stands by itself. It's not like The Drive-In."
So did you sit down and write it as a new story about Hap and Leonard, or did you have the idea for the story and think, 'This'll fit these characters'?
"It's quite interesting. I never intended to write a series at all. When I wrote Savage Season I was pretty pleased with it. I liked that book and I liked the characters. I tried to write another book and those damn characters wouldn't leave me alone. I eventually did write another book, which I was unhappy with. And I told my publisher when I turned it in, 'I'll tell you the truth, I worked and I worked and I worked, and it's not the book I wanted to write. And I'd like to withdraw it.' He said, 'Sure - go home and revise it, and be happy with it.' So I did, I went home, put it in a box, and wrote a completely new book. They were happy with it; I was happy with it: it was Mucho Mojo. I have a new one written about those characters, called The Two-Bear Mambo, which comes out here next year - it's out in the States next month. So I enjoy the characters. I don't intend to write about them exclusively but I certainly do like writing about them."
With these new books you're moving more into psychological thriller territory and away from zombies and the supernatural.
"Actually, if you look through By Bizarre Hands, you have stories like 'The Pit' and 'Night They Missed the Horror Show' and the title story; those are all actually dark crime stories. Throughout that book there are several stories of that ilk, and I think I've actually been going that way for a long time. The first novel under my name was of course a crime novel, Act of Love. I wrote it as a crime novel, but it was published as horror. I love supernatural horror, and I've written a lot of it, but I've always had more of an inclination towards dark crime. When I extend that into novels, I think the vision's just a bit less dark than the short stories. You can only do something so long before you do something different."
Are you going to go back to doing supernatural stuff?
"I never say never. I don't believe in that because I like to follow my whims. I'm contemplating a supernatural short story right now, and last year I wrote 'Bubba Ho-Tep', a supernatural novella, which was up for the Bram Stoker Award this year. The right thing won: Bob Bloch. I also did a collection called Writer of the Purple Rage which contained an offbeat Godzilla story called 'Godzilla's Twelve Step Program'. I don't know that I ever really change completely. It's just that I vary my emphasis at times. I think with novels I'm much more comfortable with non-supernatural subjects."
Are you still doing a lot of short stories?
"There's three I can think of in the last two years. There's a novella called 'The Big Blow' in a book called Millennium that's being done in the States with a number of other writers. Each one of us has a period in time; I did 1900 to 1910. I did one called 'Mr Weed-Eater' not that long ago which I think is one of the very best stories I've ever written, which is also in Writer of the Purple Rage."
These are all scattered around various anthologies, most of which don't come out over here.
"Writer of the Purple Rage has collected a large percentage of my stories and also one play."
Is that going to come out over here?
"I don't know, I really haven't pushed it that much, I've been concentrating on the novels. Short stories are often harder to sell, but I certainly would like that to happen. There's another book coming out next year called A Fistful of Stories that covers a lot of them, including very old ones and more modern ones. And there's one which is going to be really early stuff. It's not great stuff but it's mainly from small press. The main thrust of the book is going to be autobiographical stuff about the stories. Not necessarily my autobiography - 'I was born in a log cabin' or whatever - but it tells a little bit about the stories and the climate of horror when I started writing. Because unfortunately I've got old enough now that I'm looking back on the Golden Age. Or our Golden Age; each group of writers has its own Golden Age."
Has the stage version of 'Drive-In Date' been performed anywhere yet?
"No. What happened was that 'Drive-In Date' and also 'By Bizarre Hands' - which is the play that is in Writer of the Purple Rage - were written for some people who had plans for an off-Broadway production. They contacted me and Neil Barratt, Nancy Collins and Richard Christian Matheson, a whole load of us. They said, 'We're going to do this Grand Guignole, and we want you to write plays.' So I wrote two plays. Everything was going well, they paid us and everything, but they didn't have money to do the production because whoever was there pulled out. I've heard that it was because it was the time of the Gulf War and a lot of people were worried about investments, but I also heard that my play 'Drive-In Date' upset them, so I don't know what the true story on that is. None of the plays were performed. I'd like to do some other plays of a totally different nature - mystery plays. I love theatre."
What about movies?
"I've sold numerous things to film. I've done screenplays. I did a screenplay for Cold in July about eight years ago, and I've done four drafts since, but they're still messing around. I heard yesterday that they want me to do some work on it which I'm not going to do because I disagree with it totally. I did a screenplay for Dead in the West which has been bought continuously ever since I did it back in the early '80s. I'm currently writing - for David Lynch at Propaganda - one called The Two-Bear Mambo, based on my new book. David Lynch is 'attached to the property' which is one of those curious terms which means that they can use him for promotion, but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody else directs it, if it happens. Then I've had a number of short stories - 'Bubba Ho-Tep' and 'Night They Missed the Horror Show' and 'Fish Night' and numerous things - accepted for film, and paid for, although I didn't do any screenplays on any of those." [In 2002, Bubba Ho-Tep was filmed by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell - MJS]
You've done some Batman stuff.
"I did three television shows - Batman: The Animated Series - and the third one which hasn't come out has Jonah Hex in it. It's really more of a Jonah Hex story that's framed by Batman and Robin, and it's called 'Showdown'. I did one with the Mad Hatter called 'Perchance To Dream' which I think is the best one I did, and I did one called 'Read My Lips' with the Ventriloquist. Plus I wrote a Batman novel called Captured By the Engines, which I think is a unique book and I had a lot of fun doing it. And I did a children's book, Terror on the High Skies. I grew up on Batman, so I was a fan to begin with. Brian Thomson, who was at Warner at that time, called me and asked me if I wanted to do them. I thought the money stunk and I said no. But they eventually came up with the money. I wanted to do them anyway, but I didn't want them to know that I wanted to do them. People would say, 'Oh man, your career's going so good; why would you want to go and do a Batman novel?' I said, 'Look, I became a writer because I love writing. I love writing all kinds of things and I certainly don't want to be tied to any one thing.'"
What about your Jonah Hex comics?
"I did two series of Jonah Hex. The first one was 'Two-Gun Mojo', the second is 'Riders of the Worm and Such'. It's interesting and it's a lot of fun. The Lone Ranger also came out last year through Topps. I have a new series, a kung fu Lone Ranger story set in Chinatown in San Francisco that is coming out with a new artist who I think is just wonderful. He has a totally different outlook and a different take on the Lone Ranger, so I'm going to be curious to see a final product on that. Also Mark Nelson and I collaborated on Blood and Shadows which should come out this fall or early next spring in the States through Vertigo. It's a horror comic that travels through time; it's science-fictional, it's a western. I think it's quite good. There's lots of things that I've been asked to do that I don't have the time to do, or the inclination to do in some cases. I like to keep moving. I may not write any more comics. Right now I'm moving in other directions."
Can you pick and choose nowadays what you do?
"I've been able to do that for quite a few years now and I really like that."
Jump to Part 2 where Joe discusses The Drive-In, cover artwork, censorship and popcorn dreams.