Joe R. Lansdale: Mojo Writer
"I will always attempt to Do the Right Thing... even it
means killing every last man, woman and child in this here town,
twice over." -Jonah Hex
along after, Murray awoke and looked at his wife in the crook of his
arm. She lay there with her face a grimace, her mouth opening and
closing like a guppie, making an "uhhh, uhh," sound.
nightmare perhaps. He stroked the hair from her face, ran his
fingers lightly down her cheek and touched the hollow of her throat
and thought: What a nice place to carve out some fine, white meat.
What in the hell is wrong with me? Murray thought, and he rolled away from her, out of
the bag. He dressed, went outside and sat on the rock. With shaking
hands on his knees, buttocks resting on the warmth of the stone, he
brooded. Finally he dismissed the possibility that such a thought
had actually crossed his mind, smoked a cigarette and went back to
not know that an hour later Toni awoke and bent over him and looked
at his face as if it were something to squash. But finally she shook
it off and slept."
BY THE SEA NEAR THE GREAT BIG ROCK
I've been scared
before, afraid of what someone might say about what I write, but not
as scared as I am now. It's hard for me to be a critic when I'm
talking about one of the writers that inspired me to sit my ass down
and peck out articles like this one.
Joe R. Lansdale is by far the most versatile writer I have
ever come across. From comedy to horror he consistently gives the
reader the one thing that is so lacking in the work of so many
others, a good story.
My high school English
composition teacher gave me my first Lansdale book. She was
convinced that I'd make a good writer if she could just keep me
interested. The book, "Nightrunners", was
about a gang of punks that corner a woman in a cabin in the woods.
Pretty cliché. Right? Not by a long shot. The "God of the
Razor", a hellish figure with hypodermic needles for teeth and
barbed wire for hair is driving the leader of the gang to kill her.
believe it or not, answers his own fan mail, and even
agreed to do an interview with me!
You're called a "Mojo Writer". For the record, what is a
JRL: The Mojo title was invented by my friend and web master
of my web site, operator of TEN ANGRY PIT BULLS. It means magical.
It can also mean sexual, but I think we'll have to go with the first
definition as far as my stories go, though I suppose there are
elements of that as well from time to time.
ZPB: If you had to pigeonhole yourself, in what genre would you
put your work?
JRL: I wouldn't pigeon hole myself other than to say I'm the
ZPB: In Splatterpunks, Paul M. Sammon said that the true pioneers
of writing, those that go too far, are the guys with arrows in their
backs. Has something you have written ever put an arrow in your
JRL: I've had my share of people not liking what I'm doing, or
thinking early on that I was destroying modern civilization as it
now exists, but mostly that hasn't been the case. I've been received
pretty well, to be truthful.
ZPB: Many of your darker stories have a deep racial undertone as
in "Night they missed the horror show", and "The
Pit". Do you feel that this type of racism still exists and why
is it such a good source of horror fiction?
JRL: Sure it still exists. And everywhere. I don't think it is
the norm, however,not as it was up until the mid-sixties, through
the seventies. It's changed dramatically, but it's still there and
it's a powerful theme and a terrible social problem to put it
mildly. And I mean racism of any kind. It works in reverse as
ZPB: What/Who were your greatest influences when you started
JRL: I started writing as a kid, and early on four writers were the
most influential. Uncle Remus, Homer, especially the Iliad. I liked
the Odyssey, but the Iliad I was nuts about. I still have my
original copy somewhere, and I look at it now and wonder how as a
kid I could be so excited by it. I read it from cover to cover. It's
an epic poem, but even as a kid I was thrilled by all the action the
description of weapons and battle, the characters, the gods, the
sex, the food. Those guys liked to eat. Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK
just flipped me out, and then when I read Burroughs, especially the
Martian series, my desire to be a writer grew even more, and at that
point I knew I had to be one. Right now I'd like to kick him in the
ass. This is hard work. Honestly, those were my earliest influences,
later on, Harper Lee, Flannery O'Conner, Ray Bradbury, William
Goldman, Robert Bloch, Fred Brown, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Raymond
Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, James Cain, Pete, Hamil, Charles Wileford,
ZPB: What would you say to critics who say your work is gore for
JRL: Well, it isn't that gory most of the time. Dark maybe,
and frankly I don't much care for work that's gore for gore's sake
myself. I like stories strong on invention and/or character that are
not afraid to deal with the issues of life and death.
ZPB: Who are your favorite writers? What are your favorite horror
JRL: I love Flannery O'Connor. All of her work. WISE BLOOD is
a great novel, and A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND is a great short story
collection. But all of her work is great. My favorite novel has
always been TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD. though LONESOME DOVE by Larry
McMurtry, LITTLE BIG MAN by Thomas Berger . Favorite movies, TO KILL
A MOCKINGBIRD, CASABLANCA, LONESOME DOVE, LITTLE BIG MAN. CASABLANCA
is the only one that wasn't a book (or at least I don't think it
was) and the others are among those rare things--movies very
faithful to the books. The authors I listed earlier are still
writers I love or appreciate. I'm also fond of Memoirs. I like
reading those. I loved Jimmy Carter's recent memoir, AN HOUR BEFORE
DAYLIGHT. He gives Christians a good name. I like Homer Hickham's
three autobiographical books, especially ROCKET BOYS, also known as
OCTOBER SKY. Another good movie very much like the book. I could go
on and on. I love to read. Horror movies. I love I WALKED WITH A
ZOMBIE, the original CAT PEOPLE, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I love
a lot of low budget films of more recent times as well, but it's odd
that most of the films I really love are quiet and carefully
composed. They're the ones that have true echo with me. As for
Westerns, I named LONESOME DOVE. I love THE SEARCHERS, RED RIVER,
though the ending sucks, RIO BRAVO, one of the most underrated
Westerns ever made. Two others were made from this same basic
script, and EL DORADO is good, but RIO LOBO sucks for the most part.
I love SHANE, also a great novel. THE SHOOTIST, also a favorite
Western novel of mine by Glendon Swarthout, who is a favorite writer
of mine. Died a few years back. All of these list, horror, western,
or otherwise, could go on and on.
ZPB: Of all the comic books out there, why Batman and Jonah Hex?
JRL: I grew up on BATMAN and at first SUPERMAN was my
favorite, but the idea of BATMAN appealed to me because he didn't
have super powers, used his body and mind to become this great crime
fighter. I learned to read through comics. I encountered JONAH HEX
later, and the stories I remembered as strange and dark and magical,
with that gritty western touch. Later, when I looked back over the
old copies, just before I began to write them, I found that I had
actually remembered them as more horror like than they were.
Offbeat, maybe, and sometimes a little weird, but not how I
remembered them. I tried to write my versions with artist Tim Truman
to be as I had remembered them. Same with BATMAN. When THE DARK
KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller came out, that's the way I remembered
Batman, but he really wasn't that way when I was growing up. Those
elements in both series were there, however, and I picked up on
those and retained them more than other aspects of the characters. I
bet Frank Miller did something similar.
ZPB: Your depiction of Batman is more human then many other
versions. What would you love to have Batman do if you had complete
JRL: I've done my Batman in television and in my novel,
CAPTURED BY THE ENGINES. I also did a Young Adult novel where he's
really a minor character. I wouldn't mind another crack at him, but
I feel pretty fulfilled.
ZPB: While working on BTAS and STAS, did you ever feel restricted
by writing for a cartoon?
JRL: The first three scripts I wrote for the Batman show were
great fun. You were restrained a little, but nothing much. It made
you work harder to be clever. The original show was very adult,
while appealing to kids. Someone decided it was too adult, and by
the time I wrote Critters, I did feel restrained. Superman, I did
one and it was rewritten--for the better. I never quite got a handle
on Superman, and the series developed in the same spirit as the
later Batman, so it wasn't my cup of tea. I haven't seen the NEW
JUSTICE LEAGUE, though I would like to.
ZPB: Have you ever been afraid to publish a story for fear that
it had gone too far?
JRL: No. But I started one once that I felt had gone farther
than it needed to go. I felt it was just going far to go far, so I
discarded it. That's not a good reason. Also, with DRIVE-IN DATE, I
felt I had gone far enough. Been there done that, and it's not
supposed to just be a gimmick. I wrote that one sincerely, but when
it was finished I knew I was over that sort of thing. Darkness still
creeps into my work, and I never rule anything out, but I'm moving
in new directions now because I have to. Tired of the other.
ZPB: What are you currently working on?
JRL: A novel, but I won't discuss it here. Takes the energy
out of it.
ZPB: What genre would you like to try next? Will we ever see a
romantic novel by Joe R. Lansdale? Maybe something with an
introduction like "She was just a small town girl from east
Texas, but her love was like her trailer and her ass, double
JRL: I never know too far ahead what I'm going to do. I
will be writing more crime stories, but I know I have a novel of the
west I'd like to do. Maybe someday.
We'll keep our fingers crossed Joe!