“Texas is a state of Mind” – An interview with Joe R. Lansdale

joe-r-lansdaleJoe Lansdale was born in Texas in 1951, and almost all his stories take place there. Since his debut in 1980 he wrote about forty novels and many short stories, screenplays, subjects for comics and television. All of his stories (whether noir, western, horror, fantasy, science fiction or grotesque) share the same biting yet irresistible humor, a disenchantred feeling about the present and past US society and a deep sense of morality that make him one of the last American classics. Although he never gives up the structure of the educational novel Lansdale recalls the major themes of the American history in a romantic yet sometimes disapproving way focusing on the emblematic half century between the twilight of the West around 1910 to the death of JFK (and perhaps the death of the American Dream). The creator of that strange partnership of detectives Hap & Leonard (the former, a white democrat, the latter black, gay and republican), protagonists of a recent TV series and they are about to feature in their tenth novel. Lansdale is one of the greatest living American narrators and we had the pleasure of talking to him.

Your writing is often described as “cinematic” but your works only turned into movies in the last few years. Why? Is it your choice or had nobody proposed you a film adaptation before? Was Hitchcock right in saying that great “written” works do not need to be given a different shape as they have found their best expression already?
I have many book options, and made a lot of money from that, and from screenplays, so I’ve been involved in film in one way or another since the 80s. But they are just now getting made. They have found their best expression, but film is another and I enjoy that, but the novels and stories remain the novels and stories.

Foto di Leann Mueller

Photo by Leann Mueller

The most ordinary question: what does “writing” mean to you?
It means a way to express myself and be creative and it’s an outlet for a lot of different things. After my family, it and martial arts have been the constants in my life.

I recently had the opportunity to interview the popular film director John Carpenter (here). What is your opinion about his work? I am asking this as I think that your novels and his movies have many points in common, especially when it comes to horror and science fiction.
I really enjoyed most of Carpenter’s work. Halloween is his masterpiece, or La cosa, as both are great. I don’t know what we share, except maybe a science fictional and horror view, at least on many things. Starman is also a very good film by Carpenter, and I think that one is often forgotten.

L'edizione italiana Urania de "La notte del Drive-In"

First Italian edition of “Drive-In”

I think that The Drive-In  is one of the greatest metaliterature expressions of all times. Had you scheduled its sequels and its ending from the beginning?
No. All of the stories just grew over time, out of my subconscious.

I found Bubba Ho-Tep simply unique and amazing both because of its plot and (especially) for its style. You were able to make poetry out of subjects such as bumps on an old man’s penis. How the hell did such an idea come to your mind?
My brother, who is older than me, lived in Memphis and had hoped to record at SUN RECORDS, but he never quite made it. His wife, my sister-in-law, graduated high school with Elvis and knew him a little. John Kennedy’s death when I was a child was a shocking introduction to the real and harsher aspects of the world, and it stayed with me. My mother, due to an injury, had to spend some time in a rest home, and I was there a lot, and all of those things, as well as a title I had in mind, BUBBA HOTEP, and my love of old mummy movies, came together and the story wrote itself. I thought it should be oddly raw and poetic at the same time, and I’m glad it feels that way to you.

Almost all of the stories you tell take place in Texas. Do you think that Texas can be considered an accurate reflection of US society or is it a world apart?
I love Texas, but it is as much myth and legend a it is truth. I think a lot of it is true, but mostly it’s a State of Mind, an idea, concept that we fill in with our own thoughts.

In your writings you can often find rivers. Why are rivers so special to you? Why do you feel like making them main characters in your stories?
Simple. I grew up near the Sabine, and they are great symbols for the flow and depth of lives.

The main characters in your novels are often teenagers that are growing up. Why is the education novel so dear to you?
I remember being a teen ager vividly, so that seems a natural way for me to write, and it’s a way to let the reader touch on their own childhoods, even if the characters are different from them. Innocence and discovery of the larger world are fascinating subjects.

Copertina originale de La foresta

The Thicket

In my opinion your last book The Thicket is nothing but a perfect work. It might be my favourite. In it I found not only Dante but also the West theme, the Western history and the summa of your poetics (respect for losers, education novel structure, thoughts about the evolution of US society). Have you been thinking about such a novel for a long time or is it a recent idea?
I had been thinking about it a long time, though not directly, but now and then it came to me, and I wanted the heroes to all be outsiders of a sort. Shorty is one of my favorite creations. Peter Dinklage hopes to play him in a film adaptation. He would be perfect. A fine actor.

The series taken from the first novel of the Hap and Leonard sequence got positive feedbacks. Did you enjoy working for the TV? Was it difficult to turn your novel into a series?
I did enjoy it, but though I was an executive producer, I didn’t write the scripts, I only had the chance to comment on them, but I was listened to a lot, and from time to time ignored. I think that is the director’s right. My work becomes his work in the end, when it’s film. But they were good to me. I never hesitate to say what I think, but I understand the system. I was very pleased with the series.


Hap (James Purefoy) e Leonard (Michael K. Williams) nella serie TV omonima.

What will your next novel be about?
In Italy it will be a historical, PARADISE SKY, and behind that another Hap and Leonard novel titled RUSTY PUPPY, which I finished today (saturday).

Any advice for young writers who would like to reach the wider audience?
I don’t think about the audience. I just think about what I would like and hope there are other who would like. It’s not due to disrespect for the audience, it’s that I have no idea what an audience wants. I hope enough of them want what I want to write, and that’s how I proceed.

Thanks to Mr. Lansdale and thanks to Elis and Steve for translations.

Riccardo Poma


Essential bibliography

1986 Dead in the West
1988 The Drive-In: A “B” Movie with Blood and Pocpcorn, Made in Texas
1989 Cold in July
1991 Batman: Captured by the Engines
1998 The Boar
2000 The Big Blow
2001 Zeppelins West
2002 A Fine Dark Line
2004 Sunset and Sawdust
2007 Lost Echoes
2011 All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky
2012 Edge of Dark Water
2013 The Thicket

Hap & Leonard series
1990 Savage Season
1994 Mucho Mojo
1995 The Two-Bear Mambo
2001 Captain Outrageous
2011 Devil Red
2015 Honky Tonk Samurai

Collections (only for Italian market)
2006 In un tempo freddo e oscuro
2010 Altamente esplosivo
2014 Notizie dalle tenebre

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