A True Texas Writer Finally Getting His Due: The Story Of Joe R. Lansdale And Hap & Leonard

Joe R. Lansdale and his characters Hap & Leonard.

By Bob Gunner - The Lonestar State of Texas has had its share of noteworthy writers throughout its glorious history. From short story writers such as William Sidney Porter (better known to readers as O.Henry), and gritty, rustic pulp writers and novelists. We have experienced the likes of Robert E. Howard (Conan, The Barbarian, Solomon Kane, Kull), Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show)and a long list of so many, many more. Now, another stands out as a 'prodigal Texas son', a talented man from East Texas with the name: Joe R. Lansdale.

If you have been watching the hit series "Hap and Leonard" (http://www.sundance.tv/series/hap-and-leonard) which debuted on cable's SundanceTV on March 2 and ended its six-episode first season on Wednesday, April 6, you have been exposed to the "Champion Mojo Storyteller" Joe R. Lansdale. If you have not been watching, you still have time to binge watch the first season's shows in their entirety online at the above link!

Hap Collins & Leonard Pine are the main characters in a series of books and short tales written over the years including: Savage Season (1990),
Mucho Mojo (Cemetery Dance Publications, 1994), Two-Bear Mambo (1995), Bad Chili (1997), Rumble Tumble (1998), Veil's Visit (includes the eponymous story, written with Andrew Vachss) (1999) (limited edition), Captains Outrageous (2001), Vanilla Ride (2009), Hyenas (a novella) (2011), Devil Red (2011), Dead Aim (a novella) (2013), and the latest, Honkytonk Samurai (2016).

Set in the late 1980's, Hap and Leonard is a darkly comic swamp noir of two best friends, one femme fatale, a crew of washed up revolutionaries, a pair of murderous psycho killers, some lost loot, and the fuzz. If the series is picked up (and Sundance TV would be making a really big mistake if they did not) each season would be based on material from the other titles.

But, getting back to Joe, Hap & Leonard is not his first "Rodeo".  

Lansdale has written novels and stories in many genres, including Western, Horror, Science Fiction, Mystery, and Suspense. He has also written for the comics and Batman: The Animated Series. He has 45 novels and 30 short story collections behind the belt, along with many chapbooks and comic book adaptations. And several other of his novels have been adapted to film, including:  Bubba Ho-Tep, which was made into a movie by Don Coscarelli (Starring Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley — as a resident in a nursing home. And the late Ossie Davis as Jack, a black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy, explaining that he was patched up after the assassination, dyed black, and abandoned.), and Cold in July, a 2014 American independent crime drama film directed by Jim Mickle, written by Mickle and Nick Damici, and starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, and Nick Damici. In Cold in July, Hall plays a man who kills a burglar, whose father (Shepard) subsequently seeks revenge. The plot is further complicated when a private investigator (Johnson) shows up.

Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, adapted from Lansdales short story was also the premiere episode of the first season of Masters of Horror, directed by Don Coscarelli.

Joe has received the Edgar Award, 9 Bram Stoker Awards, the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Grinzani Cavour Prize for Literature, the Herodotus Historical Fiction Award, the Inkpot Award for Contributions to Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1 Spur Award, and many others.

Joe was born in Gladewater, Texas, and now lives in Nacogdoches, Texas with his wife Karen. He is the writer in residence at Stephen F. Austin State University, and also teaches at his own Shen Chuan martial arts school Lansdale's Self Defense Systems in Nacogdoches. He is also a member of both the United States Martial Arts Hall of Fame as Soke, and the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

I personally became a big fan of Lansdale's work back in the late 1990's, and being a writer of Texas fiction myself, had the honour of picking his brain and opinions in short email conversations over the years.  He wrote the introduction for one of my "Weird Western" anthology collections a few years back.  If you like the concept of the country lifestyle, intertangled with action, humble ideas and spiritually uplifting prose that you will never forget, then I highly recommend you give Lansdale a try.  Perhaps you will find yourself as hooked and looking forward to his latest new projects too?

For more about Joe R. Lansdale and his latest news and projects, see: http://www.joerlansdale.com

The Paper recently had the opportunity to interview Lansdale and the questions and his answers are below...

The Paper's 10 Questions:  

The Paper: Hap & Leonard are two of my favorite characters, they seem unlikely buddies the first time you are introduced to them, but after reading one of their wild adventures, and pretty much the same as Leonard Pine is addicted to vanilla cookies and Dr. Pepper, you always seem to hunger for more stories to be written.  Where do these characters come from, what inspired them, and do you plan to keep writing about them?

Joe R. Lansdale: Hap is based on me to a great degree, some of my own life adventures, though, of course none as extreme as Hap's. But his background is similar to mine, and a lot of his views are similar to mine. Leonard is based on several people, black and white, and now and again he serves as my alter ego as well, as there are certain things about him where we are similar. Hap and Leonard are a kind of fictional Yin and Yang. I write about them when Hap speaks to me, and now and then he does. I have no definite plans for them, except some general ideas.

The Paper: Obviously, there are subtle differences in the original books and what eventually is adapted for a television series.  I imagine all writers find themselves facing this fact, was there anything about this first tv outing that rubbed you wrong or you wished may have been presented a bit differently?

Joe R. Lansdale: You're right. There are always differences, but I'm glad that for the most part they stuck to the first novel, and I've really enjoyed the show and everyone associated with it. I got lucky there, and oddly, all the films and TV shows made from my work had been good. I have nothing to squawk about. That said, I am not bashful about saying what I don't think is working, but I'm also in support of the director having final decision. I cashed the check.

The Paper: Having kept up with you for years because I enjoy your writing so much, you have discussed your methods for writing and suggestions (On Facebook and in articles) to others who might want to pursue doing so.  To those unfamiliar, could you briefly give your opinion once again on how you are inspired and what personally works for you to start a peice, and finish it?

Joe R. Lansdale: That's a question that would require a book, and I'm writing one. Let me just say this. As a child I was fascinated with story, and I've never ceased to be. I'm curious by nature, and I have become even more curious as I've grown older, my imagination is even bigger. I am in a way just continuing the loves of my childhood, but in an adult manner.

The Paper: Having read so much of your work, from Western to Horror, and those stories with a Country/Noir Crime/High Adventure feel, what attracts those genres you find yourself writing in?

Joe R. Lansdale: I love so many things, and have so many literary passions, I just go with what is pushing me at the moment. I rarely know what it will be, even when I make a novel deal with a pubishing company, and may have some idea of what I'm going to do, it often mutates. I think on the whole, my best work has been my historical work, and my most personally beloved characters are Hap and Leonard and Dot from Fender Lizards. But I enjoy all the books and characters.

The Paper: We all know that is is important to read if you want to write.  Who were some of your favorite writers, and why were you attracted to their work?

Joe R. Lansdale: This list could also be a book. Some have influenced me within a certain time period in my life, and some are with me everyday in some shape or the other. Edgar Rice Burroughs and Kipling really kicked me off. Poe, Jack London, Mark Twain has continued to inspire me. Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch, Fred Brown, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, Flannery O'Conner, a lot. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, a little of Faulkner has impacted me. Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, Andrew Vachss, Chet Williamson have taught me a lot. Recent authors I love are Les Edgerton and Stephen Graham Jones. So many writers who have influenced me with only one story or book, but that list would be tremendous.

The Paper: So many people have suddenly taken notice of your work, and I hope the television series (and of course the films Bubba Ho-Tep and Cold in July) inspires them to go search out all the other great books and stories you have written, how does it feel to finally be recognized for your writing on a grander scale?  Do you feel successful and satisfied at this point in your career, or do you hope to do much better?

Joe R. Lansdale: I never feel satisfied, as I'm always learning and trying to do better, but I have felt successful most of my career. Once I could go full time, and succeed at it, I was successful in my view. And now I'm just getting more attention, but I've been pretty happy my entire career. This is not to say there haven't been tough times, but my family and my writing have always sustained me. I didn't become a writer to become rich and famous. I did it to make a living and be able to do something I love. I've done that for a very long time now, so I have been happy overall for quite a while.

The Paper:  I know you are proud of both your son and daughter, and both at some point have been involved in your creative projects, as well as their own endeavors.  And let us not forget your supportive wife Karen.  Having such a loving family standing behind you must be of great comfort as you work to pursue your writing career?

Joe R. Lansdale: They are the best, and it has been a joy being married to my wife Karen for nearly 43 years. She has been supportive and has worked for me as a kind of manager since the late eighties, and she did it well. My son and daughter are doing well, and have at this point chosen creative paths. I'm proud of them.

The Paper: Is there a really special forthcoming project you have in mind to tackle?  Any particular genre, or does that just come about as you write?

Joe R. Lansdale: I may be directing a film. That is still in the offering, and it looks possible. I love prose more than film, and I love martial arts more than film, but I do love film and this is something I would enjoy doing, and hope I can do well. I never wanted to direct, and only in recent years have I truly considered it. Back in the 80's I thought about it as I wanted to see something of mine filmed, but I didn't have a burning desire. The desire is heating up as of the moment. I don't really plan on writing genres. The books just sort of arrive.

The Paper: I know many of your books have been optioned for the movies, which ones are still on the plate and may be filmed in the near future?

Joe R. Lansdale: Over the years I have had a lot of options on novels and stories, and it has been consistent. As of now, to the best of my memory, the books of mine under option, some for film, some for TV, are EDGE OF DARK WATER, THE THICKET, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, "The Pit". There are probably others. And I'm involved with three or four other projects that look promising. And, of course, the Hap and Leonard series is under option by Sundance TV, and I hope the series continues.

The Paper:  What is your personal favorite of all the books you have written and why?

Joe R. Lansdale: PARADISE SKY. It is a book I've wanted to write for thirty years, or more, and finally I did. It is one that I didn't have a plot for, but had a urge for. It is based on the lives of several real life black characters, all embodied by Nat Love, the name of real life black cowboy. It's a part of our history that has been overlooked. I wanted to showcase it, and I wanted to write what I thought of as a humorous and adventurous dime novel of the Old West, and at the same time make it historical, and "literary", whatever that truly means.

Photo: Joe R. Lansdale and his characters Hap & Leonard.


About Bob Gunner:  Bob Gunner is the Owner, Editor & Publisher of The Paper.  He is a published writer, journalist, news editor and content manager who has worked in Houston-area media all of his professional career for such prestigious companies as The Houston Chronicle, Houston Community Newspapers and Clear Channel Radio. His website is: http://BobGunner.com


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