Interview: Joe R Lansdale

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Crime author Joe R Lansdale

Across four decades, the Texan author Joe R Lansdale has been spinning dark tales. We love them. They’re full of desperate, dangerous villains, damaged heroes and heroines, wild schemes and unlikely hopes – all of it marinated in the author’s gentle sense of irony.

And there’s no sign that he’s letting up. Next year will see the release of The Donut Legion and a collection of 19 short stories entitled Things Get Ugly: The Best Crime Stories of Joe R Lansdale. Crime Fiction Lover was lucky enough to carry the exclusive cover reveal for the latter, and bring you a full short story from the book, which you can read here.

As you can tell, Joe is a generous guy and he also took the time to chat with us about his crime fiction, and more, in this interview. So, dig right in…

What do you think crime fiction lovers will love about Things Get Ugly?
I think the obvious answer to that is the stories. I hope they pull the readers in, surprise them and keep them reading. Some of the stories are pretty strong, so they may have to space them.

Who are some of the characters we’ll meet, and do they include Hap and Leonard?
They do not include Hap and Leonard, but there are all manner of desperate characters, miscreants, thieves, heroes, anti-heroes, and characters with accidental involvement.

This is a ‘best of’ collection – how were the stories selected?
We actually have enough for two volumes, and some of the ones not included might even be better than some that were included, but we saved some in case there is a volume two. I hope so. My most famous crime story, and a kind of horror story, satire and social commentary is Night They Missed the Horror Show. Another volume and I assume it’s in.

Do you have a personal favourite in there?
I don’t know that I do. There is one slice of dark life story, Boys Will Be Boys, that disturbs me in the best way. I like the writing for that one, though it is not a classically resolved story. It’s a display of dark moments, which were included in the novel, The Nightrunners.

The short stories in Things Get Ugly swing back to East Texas. How does your home state and region influence your writing and what interests you most about this area?
It’s what I know. That doesn’t mean I always write about East Texas, but mostly, and even when I’m not directly, it’s there, and always will be. The people, the environment, the language.

You’re well known for writing across horror, sci-fi, fantasy and Westerns alongside crime fiction. How does your approach differ depending on the genre you’re writing?
I do dip into all manner of things, and it’s hard for me to write a crime novel thinking purely of it as crime. A purer crime novel or story might come out, but I usually just use crime to point the direction, and a lot of things I write I just write and put aside until a window opens, and it might be several windows leading in different directions and can be pushed through anyone of them satisfactorily, or as satisfactorily as I can manage. Most stories I write I have no idea where they fit, but have some idea where they might.

With over 50 books behind you, across comics, novels, novellas and short stories, over four decades, looking back on your career what advice would you give your younger self?
Pace yourself.

And what advice would you give emerging writers today?
Quit waiting for the muse. Put your ass in a chair and write, and when you write, write like everyone you know is dead. Write for no one but yourself, then when done you can hope others like it.

The Donut Legion is also due in March. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
It’s comic but kind of poignant as well. It expresses comments about our times, but it doesn’t have to be this era for the novel to resonate and be fun. It deals with conspiracy and some pretty cool characters and one wonderful dog. Oh, and there are bad guys and a chimpanzee named Mr Biggs.

Which other crime authors do you admire and why, and what are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading a Stephen King novel, Fairy Tale, at the moment, and next up is Owen King’s new one. I love his writing. I’m also reading comics, Roy Thomas’ Tarzan material at the moment. I read some of it, moved to the book. Upstairs I’m reading a non-fiction book on colonising Mars. Upstairs is my library and work space, and I read different material there when I stop writing for the day, or if I need a break. Before Fairy Tale I reread Pete Hamil’s fine little novel, The Gift. Read it three or four times.

What’s next from Joe R Lansdale?
Good question. More novels. Some short stories, but I’m slowing down on that, and a script. Recently a script I adapted from Howard Waldrop’s story, Night of the Cooters, was produced by George RR Martin and directed by and starred Vincent D’onfiro. It won the film festival for shorts category in Los Angeles at the LA Film Fest. I hope it will eventually be more widely seen.

Things Get Ugly: The Best Crime Stories of Joe R Lansdale goes on sale in August 2023. You can pre-order a copy using the buttons below.

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