Friday, July 1, 2011
EVERYONE'S GOT ONE #5: JOE R. LANSDALE: AN APPRECIATION
Hands down, my favorite writer of all time is Joe R. Lansdale, and if you’ve never encountered his work, then you probably don’t know why. Anyone who has delved into his stories can’t deny the power of his mojo storytelling. And now is the perfect time to be a Lansdale fan, considering how many tales he’s already put out this year.
I remember when I first stumbled upon him. I was in college at the time, and I was looking to expand my horizons a bit. Back then, I had only read horror classics, like Lovecraft, Poe, and the like. I’d also read a lot of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice, but that was about as modern as I got. I wanted to know more about what was happening in the genre here and now, so I went to Borders and perused their horror section. I bought a number of things (all of them were excellent purchases), and one of them was MUCHO MOJO by Joe Lansdale, hisownself.
I didn’t know it was part two in a series. If I had, I would have gone for SAVAGE SEASON instead. But as things turned out, I soon found myself lost in the world of Hap and Leonard. When you got down to it, the book was more of a crime novel than a horror book, but who fucking cares? All I knew was shortly after finishing MM, I went out in search of more Lansdale.
One way or the other, I probably would have encountered him. Because of his stint on JONAH HEX, which I read shortly after MM, I would have undoubtedly found him. But I’m glad it happened this way.
I found it all. Every book he’s ever written. Most of his stories. I can’t tell you how much time I spent at his website, reading his weekly free stories before I tracked them all down in print form.
It is a surprising body of work. He’s dipped his brain in just about every genre there is. His SF work is few and far between, just the same as his fantasy, but believe it or not, he’s even written military novels and pornographic material (under pen names, of course). I’m not going to make the bold statement that he created the weird western tale, but he sure as shit made it a popular thing to write.
Some of you who are unfamiliar with Lansdale are probably wondering who the hell he is, as you are probably the kind of person who pays more attention to movies rather than books. To you, I say, “Who do you think wrote BUBBA HO-TEP?” Oh yeah. And if you know about the short-lived Showtime series, MASTERS OF HORROR, he wrote “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road.”
Now that we’re on the same page, what is it that makes him so special? It could be his batshit crazy stories. Take a look at ZEPPELINS WEST and all three DRIVE-IN books and tell me that a sane mind was responsible for these things. Maybe it’s his startling imagery. Back in the ‘Eighties, he was known as a splatterpunk. I’d disagree with the label, but considering stories like “Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back” and novels like THE NIGHTRUNNERS, it’s a position not easily defended. Perhaps it’s his sense of humor. “Godzilla’s Twelve Step Program” and “Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland” stand out as testaments to this. He can also be a nostalgic guy. Think THE BOTTOMS and A FINE, DARK LINE.
One thing it definitely is, is his voice. It can’t be mistaken. Take his name off of a piece of work, and I guarantee you can identify him as the writer within the first page. In fact, it’s a lot like Hunter S. Thompson’s voice, in a way. Once it gets in your head, you start thinking with it. How many writers have tried imitating both of these guys? I know that Lansdale had an effect on my own work for the first few months after I first discovered him.
So . . . to the new Lansdale disciple, where does one begin? It’s hard to say. I’ve never been let down by the guy, and I can’t say that about a lot of writers. You’re good jumping in at any point. Let me tell you about his newer stuff, since that’s probably the easiest to find.
There’s a movie being made out of CHRISTMAS WITH THE DEAD, so you’ll probably want that one. Calvin has survived the zombie apocalypse, and he’s been getting by in the world, working hard at surviving and trying not to think about the family he lost to the undead. But dammit, he wants some normalcy back in his life. This year, he doesn’t care about the zombies. Nothing’s going to stop him from putting up the Christmas decorations. The movie is being adapted by Lansdale’s son, Keith. (On a side note, Lansdale’s daughter, Kasey, is a country singer well worth looking up.)
Want something a bit crazier? Look up CLASSICS MUTILATED, edited by Jeff Conner. Lansdale’s story, “Dread Island,” is a continuation of Huck Finn . . . if Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and Jim wound up facing off against monsters on a haunted island.
But I know one thing for sure: everyone loves Hap and Leonard. You should probably start with SAVAGE SEASON, but I started with MUCHO MOJO, and nothing bad ever happened to me. Hap and Leonard can’t possibly be any different from each other, but they’re closer than blood, and they kick ass through several gut-wrenching mysteries. In HYENAS, they get hired by a guy who wants to save his brother from getting involved with the wrong people. It sounds simple at first, but as with most things when it comes to Hap and Leonard, things get complicated fast, and everything goes off the tracks by the end. But HYENAS is a bit hard to find, so you might want to go with DEVIL RED, their most recent mass release. This time, our unlikely duo finds themselves pitted against the most deadly assassins in the world, and to make matters more ridiculous, Leonard has taken to wearing a deerstalker cap.
Then, to top it all off, he also edited a book this year called CRUCIFIED DREAMS. His taste is impeccable as displayed by these reprints. Some are tried and true classics, like King’s “Quitters, Inc.” and Harlan Ellison’s “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” but there are a lot of hardcore winners in here. My favorite is David Morrell’s “Front Man,” followed very, very closely by Tom Piccirilli’s “Loss.” Norman Partridge and Lewis Shiner also contribute incredible tales, but would you expect anything less from them?
What more can I say about Lansdale? I think I’ve said it all. Well, there’s one more thing. While I’ve never met him, I do have a bunch of signed books by him. The most money I’ve ever spent on a book was for the lettered edition of FOR A FEW STORIES MORE. I think it was $150. That should tell you a lot about my regard for this man.
There’s one more thing to say. When I first started hunting down his harder to find stuff, I discovered that a friend of his, a guy named Dale, was selling some of his books. I got in contact with him and ordered a metric shit-ton of them, including some instructional videos he made (he created Shen Chuan and teaches this martial art in his hometown of Nacogdoches). Then, one day I got a phone call, and the caller identified himself as Joe R. Lansdale. At first I thought it was a joke, but he started talking about the books I’d ordered from Dale and I realized this was the real deal. He said that he no longer had some of the books I was looking for, and he wanted to find some suitable replacements for me. One of the books in question was a signed, limited reprint of TEXAS NIGHT RIDERS, which he’d written under the name Ray Slater.
When my package arrived, I saw a first edition of TNR, signed with both real name and pseudonym. On the inside cover, I saw the stamp of a used bookstore. All of a sudden, I realized that he’d gone through the trouble of going to this store and buying a copy of his own book so he could send it to me. There were also a lot of other goodies in there, stuff that would make any collector very happy.
So not only is he very accessible, he’s very interested in making his fans happy. And over the years, he’s made me very, very happy. For example, many of you know that I wound up in the hospital for three days recently. I would not have made it through if I didn’t have DEVIL RED on my night table. Hap and Leonard kept me sane through a very difficult period of my life.
Mr. Lansdale, I thank you. You have increased the quality of my life, and I can think of no better compliment to give.
So . . . how about all of you? Who’s your favorite writer? Doesn’t matter if he writes books, songs, comics, plays, or even if he is a he. Let me know in the comments below.