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JOE R. LANSDALE: His Ownself

May 2000
By Paula Guran

Joe R. Lansdale hails from Nacogdoches, Texas. That's EAST Texas for those of you who don't realize there are several Texases. It's a place of piney woods and rich history, a fertile place for legends to grow. It's also part and parcel of Lansdale's literary voice, which has been termed "so distinctly Texan you can practically taste the swampy, East Texas pine sap on it."

"Texas is a state of mind. It's bigger than you think," he says. "It's influence on those who grow up here is dramatic. We're taught love of Texas first, then love of country. Texas is our first country. And even when you grow up and broaden your horizons, it has a hold on you, if only in a metaphorical sense. I love it here.

Joe R. Lansdale For more than twenty years now Lansdale's been using that influence writing novels, short stories, screenplays, comic books, even editing a few anthologies. Folks have come to call what Lansdale does "Mojo storytelling." Recent Austin Powers movies aside, most folks aren't exactly sure what Mojo is. Even Lansdale himself isn't exactly sure. "But I think it's good," he says. "Mojo, pronounced just how it's spelled, is an African based word more common in the South than the North, and it means something special. It can also mean bad magic or sexual energy. Apply that to writing, and, well, you got what you got, and I guess that's what I do." Lansdale's applies it in just about any kind of writing you can shake a stick at -- suspense, westerns, graphic stories and novels, mystery, humor, horror, thrillers, science fiction, and most likely the kitchen sink when he feels like it.

Lansdale's won a passle of the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker awards, plus the British Fantasy Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the American Mystery Award, the "Shot in the Dark" International Crime Writerıs award, the Booklist Editorıs Award, the Criticıs Choice Award, had a New York Times Notable Book, and Lord knows what other championship writing citations. He was recently inducted into the Texas Institute Of Letters, which, he explains "is a high mucktymuck of Texas literary writers. I was honored to be made a member, and glad to be recognized for my accomplishments as a writer, and especially as a Texas writer." Any arcane rituals, branding, or bizarre practices involved? "No brands were necessary. No sex with animals. A simple dinner and recognition sufficed."

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Despite having more awards than a dog has fleas. Lansdale's not what you'd call a household name outside of Nacogdoches County, but he's certainly not an unknown either. "These days, my stuff is found on the shelf at Borders, Hastings, Waldens, etc. Not as much as I like, but I have pretty good luck finding it, where as five to six years ago I didn't. Sometimes, the small press things aren't found there as frequently, however. I'm glad I found a niche, but I've never been comfortable with a niche. I think why I didn't become a brand name is because the work was a little too dark or off-beat for the general audience. I do things that aren't that way, but that was predominate in my work, and I think now, even when I'm not doing that, editors, publishers have made up their mind that's what I' m doing, in spite of any evidence to the contrary. Frankly, I'd like to have a wider audience, but I'm grateful for how things have gone and am hopeful I'll broaden my base in the future. In the last five to six years I've broadened dramatically."

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A broader readership base would seem to be a natural for a writer who says his literary roots "are in all the genres, and that includes literature, which is really meant to be all consuming of anything worth attention." He sees "literary" as it is usually used as "just another genre. Some of it's good, some of it isn't. I've been accused of all genres, including literary. I write what I like, that's the best way I know how to define it."

I see Lansdale as a very American writer, maybe specifically Western. He admits, "I do have roots in the Western, and at it's best, it's a favorite of mine, but I have even deeper roots in science fiction, horror, weird fantasy, crime and mystery. But, saying I'm an American writer is very accurate. Twain, London, Flannery O'Conner, Hemingway, and others of that ilk have been every bit as big an influence as Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Fred Brown, Gerald Kersh, Harlan Ellison and others. The final stew, however, is all mine."

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An example of what that special concoction brews up are two East Texans characters who are among his most enduring creations. Hap Collins (a white heterosexual who can't seem to keep a girlfriend and worries about the quality of his life) and Leonard Pine (a gay black Vietnam vet who is prone to be a touch hot-headed) tend to stumble into a heap of troublesome mysteries in a series of novels that are as violent as a Texas tornado and funny as all get out while revealing some eternal truths about the meaning of true brotherhood and the human condition.

But writing is not Lansdale's only accomplishment or the sum total of his direction in life. "I began training thirty six years ago in self-defense when I was thirteen with my dad. It was informal, but I bugged him constantly. He had been a boxer and a wrestler, self-taught, and had wrestled and boxed at fairs for money, and he was good. That got me started. Later, I began studying Judo, Hapkido, Taekwondo (different then than it is now -- rougher and more realistic), Kenpo, Thai Boxing, was exposed to lots of other things over the years. Different forms of Gung Fu, Filipino arts, Jujitsu, Daito Ryu, Aikido, Aikijujitsu, and plain old Texas whup ass."

Grandmaster of Shen Chuan Joe Lansdale In time, Lansdale began to teach martial arts privately, "This grew to a school, and then I developed a system, cataloguing concepts and principles and techniques, and it grew into Shen Chuan, Martial Science, which has several divisions."

"The name," he explains, "is two Chinese words meaning Spirit Fist. The name is a tribute to the Chinese systems which I believe were the greatest Martial arts laboratory, but it's not a Chinese system. We also have a branch that is Shen Chuan Aikibujutsu, where the Japanese arts are more prevalent, and Shen Chuan Streetboxing where the influence of American Kickboxing, Thai Boxing and the Korean arts are more predominate. Shen Chuan Stickboxing utilizes the Filipino arts, but no branch ignores other influences, and the concepts and principles remain the same, no matter which division you prefer. Shen Chuan, the hub system is more of a union of these things. That's the one I teach. Instructors under me, teach the other branches. I teach regularly, do seminars, and am, as always, still training and learning from others. The system is doing well, and in time, we hope to see it spread."

Lansdale was recognized as founder and Grandmaster of Shen Chuan a few years back by the International Martial Arts Hall Of Fame and the World Martial Arts Alliance.

You'd definitely feel safer in your average dark alley with Lansdale than , say, Joyce Carol Oates, but he's just as prolific as Ms. Oates or just about anyone else. He's published more than two dozen books and a heap more than 200 short stories. you can check out Lansdale's very interesting bibliography at his Web site The Orbit. The Orbit, among other things, offers free tastes of Lansdale's tales -- definitely something y'all should take advantage of.

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There have been over twenty-five film options of Lansdale's work. Plus he's sold four screenplays himself. Except for five scripts he wrote for the Batman and Superman animated series and two short films made from his stories "Drive-In Date" and "The Job," he's "never seen an inch of film based on any of my works." One of these here days somebody in Hollywood is going to wise up.

book cover Out right now is a three-novella collection THE LONG ONES, from Necro Publications. Novel THE BOTTOMS, out in a limited version from Subterranean Press. Trade publication is slated for September from Mysterious Press. THE BOTTOMS takes place in the 30s in the East Texas river bottoms. BLOOD DANCE, a Western, is being released this year from Subterranean Press as is short story collection, HIGH COTTON: SELECTED STORIES OF JOE R. LANSDALE, from Golden Gryphon Next year should bring (at least) THE DRIVE-IN 3, CAPTAINS OUTRAGEOUS, and a new Hap and Leonard novel. He also has a novel in progress (mostly in his head) that is "a kind of historical western titled THE TRUE LIFE ADVENTURES OF DEADWOOD DICK, AS TOLD BY HIS OWNSELF. I've been trying to write this one for nearly twenty years, but time and other factors have kept me from it. In the next two years, maybe."

Also in the near future -- a new short story collection (tentatively titled BIG JUJU) as well as the compilation of some of his older short stories in a limited collection titled FOR A FEW STORIES MORE from Subterranean. There are other things, but that's all he could think of when put on the spot.

Hope that's enough to hold y'all for now .


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